Tag Archives: practice

Road trip recovery

My dog, Sofie, curled up in the backseat of a car

Sofie happily snuggled in the backseat

The past month has been all about road-tripping. We’ve been through seven countries and driven more than 5,000km since the middle of September (my husband’s time in the car has been even longer and he’s hit an additional country!). While travelling has been fantastic (and Sofie loves being in a car!), hours in the passenger seat have taken a toll on me; my low back is sore, my hips are tight, and my shoulders are hunching.

I had a couple car-free days earlier this week and I knew yoga would help me feel better, but was feeling really lazy and unmotivated. Thank goodness for the wonder of YouTube!

Yoga with Adriene logoA quick search for ‘yoga for low back pain’ turned up a short sequence from Yoga With Adriene that looked promising.

15 minutes on the mat relieved a lot of the tension in my low back and prompted me to do another sequence with Adriene. Turns out she has a whole series of free online yoga practices!

I like Adriene’s relaxed, friendly, unscripted style. Her slight rambling and occasional diversions remind me of a good friend and overall Adriene seems approachable and very real. It’s also great to follow someone else’s sequence rather than thinking about what’s coming next!

While Sofie really looks forward to road trips (she’s small enough to stretch fully in a car!), I’m happy to have almost two weeks off before our next car adventure. Plenty of time to try a few more of Adriene’s sequences 🙂

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Retreat ahead

Laura during Prana yoga teacher training

Serious concentration or bad red eye correction? Me in my Prana t-shirt on our last day of teacher training

This time next week I’ll be at Sklenářka in the Czech Republic on a week-long retreat. Seven days of yoga, vegetarian meals (eaten in silence!), workshops, and meditation in the middle of nature (meaning an isolated villa 130km east of Prague) with Shakti and Pepe from Prana Yoga College.

Much like tidying up before the cleaning lady arrives, I’ve been practicing more regularly in anticipation of the retreat’s daily yoga classes. My yoga practice has been pretty sporadic since moving to Munich, so this preparatory kick in the pants has been very welcome.

I suspect the retreat will bring some discomfort (whether physical, social, spiritual, or all three!), but hopefully my time on the mat beforehand will ward off the worst of the aches.

Many days, my practice involved a class from the Prana YouTube channel. I spent five weeks with Shakti and Pepe three years ago for my initial yoga teacher training, so these online classes feel a bit like returning to my yoga home.

Shakti’s consistent instructions (lots of reminders to breathe!) and Pepe’s subtle accompaniment are reassuringly familiar. There are no jolting surprises in the flow of poses – I know what asanas to expect and understand the sequencing. The setting is familiar as I spent many hours there during teacher training and in the months afterwards. There’s even a barely-on-screen cameo from Milo, Shakti and Pepe’s little dog who was so much like Sofie!

While I’m a bit anxious about the retreat, I feel certain that the comfort I’ve felt following the online classes will continue in person. I may not know what to expect in terms of the facilities or other students, but I do know Shakti and Pepe! And I know what to expect from their teaching.

I’m hoping that sense of yogic home-coming continues through the retreat with its silent meals, unfamiliar location, and bug-filled wilderness. And that seven days with Shakti and Pepe energizes my yoga practice long after!

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Nothing but the beat

I have a not-so-secret love for Top 40s high-energy music. Kanye, Rihanna, Beyonce, Pitbull… and even J-Lo and Britney get heavy rotation in my playlists. Despite the simplistic (sometimes down right ridiculous) lyrics, over-produced vocals, and lack of originality, these songs with their catchy hooks and repetitive beats get stuck in my head, make me want to dance, and put a smile on my face.

This Top 40s-happiness spilled over into my yoga practice when I wasn’t paying attention and left my iPod on shuffle… on came David Guetta in the middle of a sun salutation. The energy of the song ramped up my energy and I started timing my movements and breathing to the beat.

The next time I did an energetic practice, I intentionally played Nothing But the Beat by David Guetta. Talk about a fun way to practice! Without even trying, the poses flowed into each other and yoga started to feel like dancing. No yawning during that practice 😉

For more typical yoga music, I’ve updated my listen and meditate song lists with some new songs and albums:

  • Eternal Om by Yogi Hari Eternal Om - Yogi Hari
  • Flores by Mirabai Ceiba Flores - Mirabai Ceiba
  • Har Hare Haree by Gurudass Har Hare Haree - Longing to Belong
  • Ma by Guru Ganesha Singh Ma - Yoga Living Series - Meditative Moon
  • Yoga: 8 Limbs to Bliss by Maggie Diaz Del Castillo Yoga: 8 Limbs to Bliss - Maggie Diaz Del Castillo

Ma is a wonderfully relaxing song – perfect for savasana – although it may induce yawning!

There’s lots of great mellow music to have on while doing yoga, but sometimes being entirely unmellow is just what a practice needs!

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Tell me what you want…

Laura with fellow yoga teacher Holly

I’ve had the privilege of teaching a few private yoga classes recently and I’m amazed how different it is teaching group and individual yoga sessions. A private yoga session is all about that student and their unique needs, which means I shape my teaching style much more to their preferences.

At first, I had a strong desire to fill the space with words and interact with the solo student all the time… but then it hit me that teaching that way is not going to work for everyone on every day. In fact, I wouldn’t respond well to constant attention from a teacher – I’d start to feel anxious and worried that my every move was being watched and possibly judged. I also sometimes want a really calm, chilled out practice and other times want something more energetic and invigorating.

So I thought about the questions I’d want a yoga teacher to ask me in a one-on-one session:

  • What kind of practice are you looking for?
    • Do you want to do more poses with shorter holds? Or fewer poses with longer holds?
    • Is the purpose to energize you? Or relax you? Or both!
  • Are there any particular areas you want to focus on? Or postures that really resonate with you?
    • Any areas that are particularly sensitive or need a different kind of attention?
  • What level of hands-on are you comfortable with?
    • Can I gently adjust you and apply a bit of pressure to settle you in poses? Or is verbal guidance better?
    • Are there any joints or areas you’re nurturing that shouldn’t be adjusted?
  • How much or how little instruction/guidance do you want?
    • Should I be quiet as much as possible? Or do you prefer reminders about breathing, relaxing, etc. and suggestions for deepening the pose or lessening the intensity?
    • Do you prefer a guided relaxation or quiet savasana at the end of the practice?

Now I ask private students for input on how they want to be taught. That’s one of the most amazing parts of solo yoga sessions – students can get precisely what they want and need!

If you’re lucky enough to get one-on-one yoga instruction, think about what you want to get out of that practice beforehand and odds are good that the teacher will be able to deliver.

In the immortal words of the Spice Girls, “Tell me what you want; what you really, really, want!”

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Why do yin yoga?

Following up on my recent posts about yin yoga (what is is, what to expect in a yin class, and some typical yin poses) and in honour of teaching yin yoga at Body Harmony for the first time today, here’s why I do yin yoga.

The physical benefits of yin yoga are elongated myofascial tissue (a fancy name for muscles and the fascia or connective tissue that surrounds them) and increased mobility through joints, which can prevent degeneration.

My hips feel more mobile after a yin yoga practice… sort of like I could salsa dance out of class! Being in dragon pose for a few minutes, like I’m doing in the photo to the right, is particularly good at getting my hips to salsa – although actually holding dragon often makes me feel more like swearing than dancing 🙂

Yin yoga mostly accesses the body between the knees and shoulders (lots of stretching through the thighs, hips, and spine and wonderful compression and release through the back), but I’ve also found that a yin practice often releases tension in my neck and shoulders. Forward bending postures, like dangling, work wonders for making my neck and shoulders feel looser and more relaxed.

I find the psychological benefits of yin yoga are even more impactful than the physical ones. In addition to the sense relaxation that comes from hanging out in poses for a few minutes, I’ve also found that settling into that Goldilocks place in a posture, which can be a bit uncomfortable, has helped me settle into discomfort in the rest of my life when I really can’t change the situation.

The philosophy of finding a balance of relaxation and intensity in a posture has aided me in looking for balance in the rest of my life. I find myself asking;

  • “Can I make this more comfortable?” – the yoga equivalent of adding props
  • “Is this focusing on something I want or need?” – the yoga equivalent of identifying the target area
  • “Can I let go of some tension or holding?” – the yoga equivalent of relaxing the target area
  • “Is there anything gained by fretting or being frantic – can I just be?” – the yoga equivalent of settling into a pose, breathing, and letting thoughts go

Perhaps that last question is most important. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to let go of worrying or letting my mind spin, but at least I can be conscious about it.

If you want to experience the benefits of yin yoga for yourself, join me for classes at Body Harmony on Saturdays at 4:30pm and at Bound Lotus on Mondays at 1pm, Tuesdays at 8:15pm, and Fridays at 6:30pm.

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Great expectations

I re-read my post about What is Yin Yoga? and realized that it’s too abstract to be very useful to someone who hasn’t practiced yin yoga before and wonders what a class would be like. Here’s a more concrete overview of my approach to a yin yoga class and what to expect.

Of course, I’m only speaking for myself and my own experiences with yin yoga. Every teacher and every student will be different and here are lots of ways to practice any form of yoga!

Intent

Yin yoga classes are meditative in nature and typically involve students holding poses for several minutes with shorter recovery or rebound poses to break up the long holds. The focus is mostly from the knees to upper back as the lower body and spine tend to stiffen more and are better suited (e.g. less flexible) to longer holds.

My goal with a yin yoga class is to help students settle into postures and quiet their minds. I focus a lot on breathing and encourage students to use their breath to target areas of tension and exhale it away. “We’re here for three more breaths” is how I signal the coming end of most holds and it’s probably the most over-used phrase in my teaching repertoire!

I want students to identify where they feel the stretch in a posture most and then attempt to relax those muscles and any muscles not needed to hold a pose. No posture should be painful (it’s very hard to relax when you’re in pain!) and I encourage using as many props (blankets, bolsters, blocks, etc.) as desired to get comfortable.

Class sequence

Laura sitting in easy pose on the Great Wall in ChinaI start my yin yoga classes with a short meditation and gentle movement exercises to warm up the neck and spine. This often involves sitting in easy pose (although it’s often not that easy!), pictured at right.

The class then moves into longer holds (generally two to five minutes, sometimes more) broken up by shorter recovery postures, which allow students to feel the impact of the holds, and more active poses to get blood and energy flowing.

I’ve outlined some typical yin yoga poses I use in my classes in another post.

I like to conclude my yin yoga classes with at least 10 minutes of relaxation, re-awakening, and closing meditation. I usually do a guided relaxation (also called yoga nidra), where I lead students through relaxing each part of their bodies.

And then it’s time to emerge from the yoga studio and go back into the real world!

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What is yin yoga?

Child's pose is a great yin yoga posture

My basic definition of yin yoga is: A series of yoga postures held for longer than in a usual practice. But that’s a really short explanation that leaves a lot of room for expansion.

In yin yoga, the postures tend to be relatively easy ones (not balancing or strength poses) and the hold times are generally between two and five minutes. I like to find the middle ground in a yin yoga pose, which I often describe in Goldilocks terms; it’s not painful (like burning your mouth on really hot porridge), but it’s more than nothing (like sinking too far into a ridiculously cushy bed) – it’s that perfect balance. Enough of a stretch to feel it, but not so much that your muscles tense up and fight against relaxation.

My intent in a yin practice is to relax and gently stretch, as well as mentally settle into stillness. Holding a posture for two to five minutes (or even more) tends to be a mental test, far more than a physical one. The commitment to being in the moment -letting go of thinking, planning, and doing- is a challenge for most people.

Spending last week with Paul & Suzee Grilley really got me thinking about how I define yin yoga. It’s not a trademark or a specific limited number of postures; it’s not proscribed sequence or a meticulous list of dos and don’ts. I think it’s an attitude.

My new working description of yin yoga is: The desire to be still in a yoga practice and the intent to affect parts of the body beyond muscles through long-held postures.

Of course, if that definition fails, I can always fall back on my favourite tongue-in-cheek way to describe a yin yoga class: Lazy yoga 😉

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Full moon listening

Laura holding half moon poseThe beautiful Mul Mantra meditation last night at Bound Lotus in honour of the full moon inspired me to update the song lists on the meditate and listen pages. I’ve added a few new favourites and created a list of music I like to use for savasana.

The full moon can be a time of increased energy and mental activity. It’s also just an amazing time to be out at night – particularly with the current clear weather we’re having!

I’m subbing the 8:15pm Yin Yoga class this evening at Bound Lotus. Come join me for a delightful full moon class and, of course, a beautiful relaxation in savasana afterwards!

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Introducing Laura

Born and raised in Richmond, BC, I now live on the North Shore with my husband of 10 years and our small dog.

Laura and Sofie on the rocks at Mosquito CreekI’ve practiced yoga on and off since age 16 and it became an increasingly important part of my life three years ago when I struggled to physically balance running and horseback riding. I took up yin yoga to help loosen my hips and it allowed me to continue both running and riding.

My yin yoga practice quickly became about more than my hips and it began to transform my sense of self and view of the world. I turned to yoga and meditation to help me balance a stressful job and in early 2011 I decided to concentrate on my well-being by taking a leave of absence from work.

While on leave, I continued my meditation and yin practices and also found a wonderful kundalini yoga community. My kundalini practice and the support of teachers and other students within the close-knit North Shore kundalini community inspired me to leave my corporate job and pursue a more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.

Yoga is an integral part of my journey to integrate all aspects of my life and find balance. I am particularly drawn to the concept that yoga is always “practice,” and not a competition for mastery. I enjoy teaching and sharing knowledge; being a yoga teacher gives me the opportunity to help others with their yoga experience and well-being.

I have experienced the transformational effects of a consistent yoga and meditation practice and want to share that power with others.

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