Darkness inspires deep relaxation

This coming Saturday I’m teaching a special extra-long yoga class at Younion Yoga to mark the Winter Solstice. It’s the third year I’ve led this seasonally-driven session and I particularly love using yoga to embrace darkness on this longest night of the year. The inspiration for the practice fits perfectly with my teaching style: deliberately slow, purposely restful, mindfully self-centred, well-supported—and with a bonus literary touch. 

Slow yoga is advanced yoga

I did my first yoga teacher training with Shakti Mhi in Vancouver (she’s now in Tel Aviv). Her 200-hour training follows traditional hatha lines and Shakti was never a fan of sweating profusely during a practice. An overall sense of peace, comfort, ease (often known as sukha in Sanskrit) underlies Shakti’s asana teaching style and she focused on maintaining relaxed, natural breath—no huffing or puffing here! Well, unless it’s part of pranayama (breathing exercises). 

These principles underlie how I teach so-called ‘regular’ yoga and perfectly fit my favourite styles: yin and restorative. I give lots of space for rebounds between poses, encourage students to move slowly, and suggest relaxed, long holds. Many yogis love an athletic, quick-paced flow (think vinyasa), but that’s not my style. Shakti spread the gospel that slow yoga is advanced yoga—and I’m definitely a convert!

Supervised almost-napping

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that an ideal savasana (meaning resting in corpse pose) is at least 10% of the total practice. So seven and a half minutes for a fairly standard-length yoga class and nine for a longer 90-minute session (but why not round up to 10?). That might seem counterproductive (after all, isn’t the purpose of doing yoga asana to move?!?), but I really believe that this intentional, conscious rest is where we soak up most of the benefits. It’s a way to press pause and reset.

For a tiny fraction of the day we’re allowed to be in a space where there’s nothing to do, nowhere to be. Isn’t that a powerful method of self-care? To be suspended in that state just before slumber, where the mind drifts and wanders. To put your everyday worries and anxieties on hold and simply float. 

I often encourage this suspended animation by leading students through a yoga nidra practice before leaving them in quiet repose. Moving through the physical self, directing attention to different body parts (up to 108 distinct points), yoga nidra helps release tension throughout the physical being. I’ve been told that my voice has a hypnotic quality during yoga nidra that lulls students into a deep peace—or allows listeners to tune out and let the words simply wash over them.

Holding the space

To my mind, every yoga teacher exists for a singular purpose: to create an environment where students can surrender to their yoga practice. I think of this as holding space for my students: taking on a bit of their burden and supporting them in ways that allow them to discover what they need. 

I always have a plan for what postures to teach and in which sequence, but often the class pulls that framework in a different direction. Students might feel unwilling to leave a particularly juicy pose and we stay for an extra minute or two, maybe it takes three times as long to get everyone sunk into their props, or perhaps the asana I was thinking of simply isn’t suitable for a class filled with students who have knee problems. Whatever my original intention is for the class, I am willing to end up wherever the students need to go that day.

As an active teacher, it’s important for me to give my full attention to each student. Seeking out clues in a pinched expression or a twitch in a limb. Offering additional props or a gentle touch. Actively encouraging students to express any discomfort or uncertainty. And inviting silence in the room to help quell the noise in their minds. 

When I teach, I am fully present. Completely engaged with the class unfolding around me. Always thinking about how to support the people who have chosen to practice with me. I bring that tranquil focus to the room—letting students immerse themselves in their own experience and recover their own energy. 

My way is not the highway

While I want to take care of each and every student, I also know that they are responsible for their own practice and, ultimately, they are their own best teacher. I can yammer on about a pose, but it’s most important how it feels for them. It doesn’t matter what I observe externally or intuitively, what counts is students being aware of how the poses impact them—and adjusting to suit them.  

Bernie Clark, author of the amazing Your Body, Your Yoga, has a great metaphor about students as pilots: 

“Ground control is full of helpful advisors: your doctor, dentist, accountant, lawyer, yoga teacher… They want to help, but you’re the one flying the plane.“

Taken from Jodi Dodd’s interview with Bernie Clark on Shut Up and Yoga 

When students are mindfully self-centred, they aren’t worried about offending me by refusing a suggestion or modifying the posture to suit their own unique needs. They are concious of fitting the pose to the person, not forcing themselves into something just because that’s how someone else thinks it’s supposed to look. 

Adding a little bit of storytelling

The first time I led a Solstice yoga session I was inspired by a beautiful composition from Margaret Atwood (well-known for dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood is a superb poet as well). Her Solstice Poem conjures up all the darkness and brooding of the longest night—and hints at the promise of the days to come.

This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.

A portion of ‘Shapechangers in Winter’ by Margaret Atwood

The poem evokes the power of this longest night and I’ll read the whole thing aloud during one of the long-held restorative poses of the session. 

It all comes together for the longest night

The Relaxing Winter Solstice Yoga on Saturday, December 21st starts with a short welcoming meditation, then a handful of yin yoga poses (well-propped, but still with a bit of intensity and held for around five minutes) that lead into a couple comfortable, long restorative yoga positions. We’ll then find a supremely-supported corpse pose and bask in around 20 minutes of rest. I’ll do three readings during the practice and kick off savasana with a mesmerising yoga nidra, recalling childhood bedtime stories and my own introduction to guided relaxation at summer camp

And in 2020 I’ll continue teaching a 75-minute Yin Yoga class at Younion Yoga every Tuesday evening, the occasional Restorative Yoga class on Fridays, and probably subbing a few classes here and there.

Rejoice that the days will slowly start getting longer soon (well, in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) and channel the darkness into deep relaxation!

Friday Evening Yoga Escape in Copenhagen

Person lying in effortless pose on the grass under leafy tree branches

While I’m starting to feel more settled in Zurich, Copenhagen remains my yoga home. And since I’ll be back for a quick visit in May, I’m squeezing in teaching a class!

If you’re in Copenhagen, you can join me for an extra-long, extra-relaxing class on Friday, 17 May from 19.00-21.00 at Østerbro Yogaforening.

It may seem like this is a ‘workshop,’ but I didn’t want to use the word work anywhere in the name of the session, as it’s the exact opposite of what I hope students will do. This extended class is an escape from the everyday and encourages deep relaxation with well-supported yin yoga poses and rejuvenating yoga nidra (guided relaxation). It’s perfect for both beginners to yin yoga or regular yoga practitioners and ideal for anyone feeling stressed or fatigued.

This extra-long class, and my almost hypnotically relaxing voice, will bring deep relaxation to the Great Prayer Day holiday – and let you play hooky from your everyday life!

The cost for this extra-long class is 145 DKK (non-member price: 195 DKK) . Space is limited and online registration is available through the Østerbro Yogaforening membership system.

Østerbro Yogaforening is a co-operative yoga studio and everyone is welcome to become a member.

Better living through technology (aka better yoga through props)

Yoga props and Laura in easy poseI’m co-hosting a Restorative Yoga workshop next weekend (21 May) with my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Constanza. As part of my preparation, I’ve been re-reading Your Body, Your Yoga (yin yoga teacher Bernie Clark’s latest book) in which he talks a lot about physical differences in yoga students and how important it is to practice for your own body.

I love Bernie’s philosophy because he’s clear about the why behind doing yoga: “to use the pose to get into the body.”1

And he’s a huge advocate of using props to support the pose – as am I. Props can make all the difference in a pose and I encourage their use extensively in my yin yoga classes. They’re even more necessary in restorative yoga!

Restorative yoga is a practice of being, rather than doing. Opening and softening, rather than stretching. Deliberating resting, rather than sleeping. It’s all about comfort and it’s much easier to be comfortable when we’re supported and the body is at ease.

I know that there are many yogis who feel like props are cheating. For me, it’s just plain stupid not to use all of the tools available to make your yoga practice (or your life) the best it can be. It’s like eschewing technological advances in  because they make life too easy and too comfortable.

Just like technology creates the opportunity for better living, props create the opportunity for better yoga!

 

 

ps – I had no idea that ‘Better Living through Chemistry’ started as a DuPont advertising slogan. Always new things to learn!

1 The full quote from the January 2014 YinYoga.com newsletter is:

Yangsters hate props – are you a yangster? The use of a prop is unconsciously equated to cheating. The inner dialogues goes something like this, “I can do this pose! I don’t need no stinking prop!” But yinsters know something that yangsters haven’t quite grasped yet – the intention of their yoga practice is not to look any particular way; it is not to get into a pose: the intention is to feel a particular way; to use the pose to get into the body. Yinsters don’t care if a little extra help is needed to get sensation into the targeted area: if props can help – let’s use props!

Rest deeply

To relax is to REST deeplyIf you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, burdened, fatigued, dog-tired (hundtræt), over-extended, beat, confused, spent, exhausted, weary, over-committed or just tired and you’re in the Copenhagen-area, come join me for deep rest on 25 February from from 15.00-17.30 for a Restorative Wonderland.

This two and a half hour workshop at Hot Yoga Østerbro is a deep restorative yoga practice with gentle mantra music and a long yoga nidra (guided relaxation) that will help you rest deeply and refuel for your regular life. The passive therapeutic practice of restorative yoga provides deep rest for tired bodies, relaxation for busy minds and rejuvenation for the entire nervous system.

The workshop features gentle mantra music and deep yoga nidra (guided relaxation). It costs 250 kr. and is limited to 8 students.

See the Restorative Wonderland page for more information and registration.

Sneaky savasana

Laura lying in savasanaIt’s the last Friday of the month, which usually means I lead an extra-long savasana in my 6:30pm class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre… but we’re in the midst of a 40 Day Transformation Yoga Challenge and have tailored all the class sequences to the Challenge.

It’s day 11 of the Challenge, which marks the start of the start of the clearing out phase – targeting the liver, kidneys, and digestive system. The Bound Lotus yin teachers have worked together to create a lovely yin sequence to relax the abdominal muscles and stimulate the internal organs (urinary bladder, liver, kidneys, and gallbladder)… but it’s a full 75 minute series.

I want to get the best of both worlds by slightly truncating the proscribed yin sequence for the second 10 days of the Challenge and doing a long savasana, rather than the extra-long one I usually do for the last Friday class of the month.

I’m hoping to sneak in a little more savasana than in a standard class, along with a delicious guided relaxation (yoga nidra), while remaining true to the Challenge series of yin postures and getting all the benefits of the clearing out sequence.

A long and slightly sneaky deep relaxation seems like just the thing to wrap up April and might be a bit of a treat for students who are now 1/4 through the Challenge!

If you’re intrigued by the Transformation Yoga Challenge, you can still join in and make it a personal 30 day challenge! It’s never too late to take on a challenge 🙂

Savasana-spiration

Animals know how to relax… something that many people have forgotten how to do.

My dog Sofie does savasana (corpse pose)Here’s my dog Sofie totally relaxed.

If her stillness inspires you to find some relaxation of your own, join me at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre tonight!

The evening yin yoga class on the last Friday of every month features an extra long savasana (corpse pose), including a long guided relaxation. The guided relaxation (also known as yoga nidra) encourages you to mindfully and deliberately relax your whole body and then sink into that relaxation and stillness for a few minutes.

Class runs from 6:30-7:45pm… and I’ll see if I can convince Sofie to come along and provide savasana-spiration in person!

 

Learn to relax and rest deeply

Restorative yoga is a practice of being, rather than doing. Opening, rather than stretching. Resting, rather than sleeping.

Restorative yoga poses help us learn to relax and rest deeply and completely.
Judith Hanson Lasater

I did Relax and Renew® training with Judith in September and it deepened my appreciation for the benefits of restorative yoga. I liked teaching restorative yoga before doing the training with Judith, now I love it.

Thankfully, I get to teach restorative yoga every Monday night for the next four weeks! I’m teaching hatha/restorative at 8:15pm on Mondays at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre up to (and including) December 3.

Restorative yoga poses help us learn to relax and rest deeply and completely