Copenhagen’s winter nights are long, dark, and often rain-soaked, which makes this the perfect season for cozy yoga classes!
Join me for Tuesday evening restorative yoga classes and the incredibly hygge Ground Yoga + Økotea in Østerbro. Classes start at 19.00 and are 75 minutes of very supported, super relaxing poses like gentle twists, soft backbends and soothing forward folds. It’s normal to do only four or five poses in a 75 minute restorative yoga class because they’re are held for up to 25 luxurious minutes!
I’m also teaching a regular yin yoga class at Ground on Sundays at 10.00. Yin is not quite as slow as restorative yoga and it’s a wonderful complement to the rest of our yang (simply meaning active) lives. It’s also a great way to cope with a bit of a hangover!
Confirm that you’re coming to classes at Ground on the studio’s Facebook page.
I also teach periodic yin yoga and mindfulness meditation classes at Hot Yoga Østerbro on Nordre Frihavnsgade. Rest assured the classes are not sweaty, just warm! I generally teach on Thursday evenings or Saturday/Sunday afternoons.
Check out my schedule for up-to-the-minute details of when and where I’m teaching.
I’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!
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!
There’s a spot in my mid-back that sometimes feels as though it holds all the tension in my body. Like every keyboard stroke, knife cut, sponge scrub, page flip, steering wheel turn, and slouch collects between my shoulder blades and knots together.
The best method I’ve found to release that tension is a long-held standing forward fold. The yin version of the pose is different than an active standing fold (called uttanasana) as the focus is on holding for a minute or more, relaxing the back body and releasing the shoulders. Bent knees, supportive arms, and resting against a wall are all welcome!
A yin standing forward fold is known as a dangle and that’s exactly the hope: that your upper body hangs and allows the muscles and fascia loosen.
Because your head is below your heart, this pose isn’t great for people with high blood pressure and anyone with low blood pressure should come out of it really slowly. Be cautious and slowly release the posture if you feel any pain.
Why it’s good
Releases tension from the shoulder blades, mid-back, and neck
Helps decompress the lower spine and sacroiliac region
Stretches the backs of the legs – if you straighten them
Promotes good balance
Compresses the digestive organs, which can improve digestion and alleviate menstrual cramps
Encourages relaxation and can reduce anxiety and stress
How to do it
Start by standing tall with your feet parallel and hip width apart
let your spine stretch upwards and your shoulders drop away from your ears
feel sturdy and balanced – your hips stacked atop your feet, your shoulders square above your hips, and your head floating above your shoulders
With an exhale, bend your knees and allow your torso to drop towards the fronts of your thighs
don’t feel any pressure to have your chest rest on your legs; most people will have significant space between upper and lower body
Straighten your legs to intensify the stretch along the backs of your legs or keep your knees bent to encourage the stretch in your back
do not lock your knees
try leaning against a wall for additional support
Experiment with arm positioning to find what works best for you
clasping each elbow with the opposite hand draws more of a stretch into the upper back and shoulders and can make your torso feel heavier
resting your hands on your thighs lessens pressure through your lower back
allowing your hands dangle freely or rest softly on the floor helps open the mid-back
Let you head release and encourage the muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, and neck to be heavy
Soften your gaze or, it’s comfortable and doesn’t mess with your balance, close your eyes
Stay dangling for at least a minute and up to five minutes
mindfully move your arms and bend or straighten your knees to find the best version of the pose for you, but try not to fidget
if it helps, visualize your spine flowing out of your pelvis like water flowing out of a pitcher, allowing tension to ebb away
if the pose doesn’t feel right, you can get a similar stretch in a seated forward fold with a rolled blanket or bolster under your bent knees
To come out of dangle:
If you’ve held the pose for several minutes, be cautious! Slowly come out of it using any of the methods below, then take a few deep breaths to regain your balance before moving to your next pose
Engage your abdominal muscles, bend your knees, and take several breaths to roll up to standing
Bend your knees and lower your hips downwards to come into a squat. Rest in a squat for at least a few breaths before lowering onto your seat or slowly moving to standing
Rest your hands on your shins and straighten your back; strengthen your abdominal muscles and inhale to come halfway up with your back parallel to the floor; exhale and let your upper body and hands release down again. Repeat this halfway raise a couple times before inhaling up to standing with your back straight.
It’s normal to feel some dizziness after your head has been down for a while. Take a few moments to regain your composure and allow the blood to flow throughout your body before progressing with your practice or continuing with your day.
As dangling is a strong forward bend, it can be nice to follow it with a back bend. Even standing and simply drawing your shoulders back as you lift your face and chest to the sky can be enough to release any tension in your front body that may have built up as you dangled.
Repeat whenever that congested mid-back feeling arises. This is a great pose for airports and offices because it requires no mat and no props!
For a few summers, this time of year meant going to camp on Gambier Island. I discovered a bunch of photos from camp a while back (including the one to the right), which triggered a memory of my first exposure to yoga.
One of the camp counsellors was obviously a yogi; she led the cabin in meditations and would help us prepare for sleep by doing guided relaxation. Summer campers sitting in sukasana (easy pose or cross legged) now seems a little silly (or maybe that’s a reaction to my crazy neon pants!), but that introduction to yoga obviously sparked something.
Summer camp was likely where my appreciation of yoga nidra stems from and the childhood connection is probably part of why teaching and practicing this form of guided conscious relaxation is so powerful for me.
The yin yoga class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre taps into that summer camp spark: a short sequence of yin poses, 20-ish minutes of guided relaxation, then a long savasana.
Join me at 6:30pm tonight and say farewell to any stresses you’ve accumulated in July with a deeply relaxed practice. I might even wear neon for a little nostalgia 🙂
Back-bending sphinx pose can’t help bring to mind the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt. I like using that enormous limestone statue as inspiration when holding the posture in a yin yoga practice: level gaze, long neck, relaxed shoulders, and unstrained stillness.
Dogs are also phenomenal models for sphinx. My dog, Sofie, often flops down into sphinx to wait for the next bit of excitement to cross her path.
In a yin yoga practice, the purpose of sphinx is not to bend your lower back as much as you possibly can, but to use your arms and belly to support the weight of your torso and let your back soften. It’s even better if you can convince your neck, shoulders, hips, and legs to relax as well.
Resist the temptation to come into your deepest back bend; instead, find a comfortable compression through your low back. You can always intensify the posture as you sink into it. Likewise, you can always reduce the intensity if you’re getting warning signs that it’s becoming too much.
The gentlest sphinx is simply resting flat on your stomach with your chin on your hands – although that’s certainly resembles the sphinx in Egypt a lot less!
Why it’s good
Compresses the lower back, which counters our strong forward-folding tendencies
we rarely bend backwards in the course of our daily lives, but often bend forwards (e.g. while driving, working at a computer, reading, lifting groceries/kids/dogs)
Helps to create a flexible spine and tone back muscles
Stretches stomach muscles and helps open the throat and upper chest
Can release tension from the shoulder blades/mid-back
Aids in detoxification
releasing the pose give the kidneys a fresh supply of blood, which that flushes out toxins
How to do it
Start by lying facedown
let your belly press into the mat as you breathe
Draw your forearms under your chest with elbows bent
keep your elbows ahead of your shoulders
Rest the weight of your torso onto your forearms and relax your shoulders
feel your shoulders drop away from your ears; allow your shoulder blades to soften
Keep your chest and collar bones open
feel your lungs expand in all directions with every inhale and let go of tension with every exhale
Experiment with the positioning of your arms, hands, legs, and head until you find the right balance of compression in your low back, stretch along your front, and ease through your shoulders
To decrease compression in your low back:
draw your elbows further away from your chest, letting your torso come closer to the floor
widen your legs and/or your elbows/forearms
To increase compression in your low back
bring your elbows closer to your chest (just as long as they’re still ahead of your shoulders)
narrow your legs
rest your forearms on a bolster or block to bring your chest further from the floor
bend your knees and let your heels come towards your buttocks
To reduce stress on your shoulders and release tension in your upper back
rest your torso on a folded blanket, block, or bolster
place a soft, small weight (like an eye pillow or bean bag) between your shoulder blades to encourage them to relax
To stretch the back of your neck and stimulate your throat
drop your chin towards your chest without compressing into your collar bones – don’t round your upper back
To stretch your throat and compress the back of your neck
turn your face towards the ceiling, being sure to keep your jaw and throat relaxed
Keep your head centred between your shoulders and your allow your eyes to close or your gaze to soften
Hold sphinx pose for up to six minutes
adjust your head/arm/leg positioning as necessary to intensify or lessen the compression in your low back, but resist fidgeting
To come out of sphinx:
For a little extra stretch, inhale and draw the crown of your head upwards, without letting your shoulders come towards your ears
As you exhale, gently slide your elbows outwards, slowly lowering your torso to the mat
Rest on your belly for a few moments, enjoying the flow of energy and fluid through your low back
Child’s pose is good counter to release the lower back, but some people find that simply lying on their stomachs and letting their breath move to the area that was compressed in sphinx is enough to relieve low-back tension.
Sweet peas mean summer to me. And while the grey skies in Vancouver (and the flooding in Southern Alberta) might suggest otherwise, summer has officially begun.
The day of equinox or solstice that marks the division between winter, spring, summer, and autumn rarely feels like the actual commencement of the season. This summer solstice is no exception.
But at least the grass is green in the Pacific Northwest, the flowers are out, and we don’t need to worry about watering gardens and lawns!
There are lots of summer solstice celebrations happening today – including one at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre that preempts my regular yin yoga class tonight. No yin bliss tonight… and next Friday is the last of the month, which brings with it a sublimely soothing yin yoga session with guided relaxation and an extra-long savasana.
Hope the first day of summer is treating everyone well and that you’re able to join me for some relaxation on Friday, June 28 at 6:30pm!
Today is my birthday and part of my celebrations include teaching my regular yin yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. Class starts at 6:30pm and will feature some of my favourite poses (like supported fish – which might be one of your favourites, too!), a playlist of yin-appropriate music I love, and homemade cookies afterwards.
Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini yoga to the West and founded 3HO, encouraged his students to bring sweet treats to class on their birthdays to share the celebration of with others. The Kundalini tradition holds that what you do on your birthday sets the tone for the year ahead.
Teaching yoga and sharing cookies sounds like a great beginning to my next year.
Happy birthday to me!
p.s. Apologies to Lesley Gore for ripping off the title of this post from her iconic song: It’s My Party.