If you’ve ever taken a vinyasa class with me, you will be familiar with a lot of the poses from the ashtanga lineage. Vinyasa yoga is essentially a free flowing version of ashtanga – anything goes. Ashtanga is itself quite the opposite; a set number of postures, in a set order…every time.
You may think this sounds a little restrictive and (gasp!) boring, but that is not the case with Ashtanga. There are so many poses and vinyasas (breath with movement) in and out of the poses, that boredom is the last thing on your mind. Lets take a closer look…
Ashtanga is a dynamic form of Hatha yoga that has its roots in the town of Mysore, south India. The ashtanga method is an ancient system of yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Kurunta. It is believed that the text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari.
Ashtanga means ‘eight limbs’ as described by Patanjali (an Indian sage) in the Yoga Sutras (the Sutras are believed to have been written between the 2nd and 4th century CE). This text is the authority on the practice and true nature of yoga – the eight limbs must be practiced in order to realise our true potential, our true nature and transcend human suffering. Ashtanga embodies these eight limbs:
- Yamas (behavioural observances – things that we should do)
- Niyamas (behavioural restraints – things that we should not do)
- Asana (physical yoga postures)
- Pranayama (yogic breathwork to control the flow of our life force energy)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (liberation)
The practice that we know today as Ashtanga yoga was first developed, practiced and taught by the yogi Krishnamachrya in Mysore, India. A student of Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois continued the work of sharing the ashtanga method throughout the world. Today the method is continued by Manju and Sharath Jois (son and grandson of Pattabhi respectively). Ashtanga yoga is therefore a lineage as well as a practice and encourages many dedicated, life-long practitioners throughout the world.
What to expect
Ashtanga yoga is taught in series’ of postures and each student of ashtanga practices the postures according to their own ability. Students are ‘given’ postures by the teacher and practice their sequence individually (although in classes with others) under the guidance of the teacher. Each student therefore is carrying out their individual practice, broadly the same as the other students and yet unique to them. More postures are added to the series as the student grows in strength and flexibility until completion of a series. The next series can then begin (phew!).
This individual approach to yoga (rather than being in a class where everybody is taught the same thing and follows the teacher through the class) is known as ‘Mysore style’ after the place it was originally taught by Krishnamachrya and Pattabhi Jois. Ashtanga can also be presented as a ‘led’ class in the style that we are familiar with, where everybody works through the poses at the same time guided by the teacher – this style is a great place to start your practice.
All students of ashtanga start by learning the postures of the Primary Series. This series is known as Yoga Chikitsa or yoga therapy. The aim is to loosen the body and free the practitioner from stiffness or weakness and allow them the freedom to practice fully. You will find hip opening, hamstring lengthening, spinal flexibility, strength and stamina in the Primary Series.
Is it for me?
Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic practice so you should be prepared to work hard. However, it isn’t yoga for the advanced only and it certainly isn’t reserved for the flexible. Ashtanga often has a reputation for rigidity, but the practice lends itself to variation and modification to suit the individual. Nobody starts an ashtanga practice able to ‘do’ all of the postures. There is work for everybody in this practice.
So what exactly will you find at an ashtanga class?
Structure – the Primary Series (where we all start) consists of sun salutations, fundamental asanas (postures), standing sequence, seated sequence, backbends and a closing sequence. You will learn to know what to expect, but no two days are the same for your body.
Sweat – the practice of ashtanga builds heat in the body. It can be strenuous and definitely raises the heart rate.
Breath-work – each movement in ashtanga is accompanied by the breath. We use the breath to move in and out of poses or hold poses for a breath count. This is the vinyasa – breath with movement.
Meditation – ashtanga, though a strong dynamic practice, becomes a moving meditation due to the structure, breath and counted nature of the vinyasas. You leave the mind behind and crowd out thoughts with the practice.
Accomplishment – The yoga journey is never about achieving postures but about moving beyond the ego to reside in peace; the true nature of the self. Due to the dynamic nature of ashtanga, you will also feel like you have achieved great things. Your body and mind will change with a consistent practice.
Ashtanga is a great place to advance your practice. If you’ve been a yogi for a few years and have felt the magic of yoga, the ashtanga method might be for you. Step outside the comfort zone, try new things and surprise yourself; find strength in backbends, find balance in headstand, find calm in deep twists.
Join me twice a month on Wednesday evenings to get to know the ashtanga method. Master the mind and the body and feel the endorphins flow!
Om shanti shanti shanti
We may still be in lockdown, but the stresses and strains of life don’t give us a break. Work stress may have slowed down, but family life has certainly ramped up. Living in containment, even with those we love can be challenging.
The Well Nest is still fully open and ready to help you with your mental and physical wellbeing. Classes are on offer throughout the week on a pay as you go basis, monthly subscription or donation/pay what you wish basis.
Tuesdays at 12 pm – Mindfulness on Facebook Live. Donation based.
Wednesdays at 12 pm Yin Yang Yoga on Zoom. £5 per session
Thursdays at 6 pm – Vinyasa Yoga on Zoom. £5 per session
Fridays at 10 am – Yin Yoga on Zoom. £5 per session
All Yoga classes are part of the monthly subscription – £25 per month, giving you access to up to 12 classes.
If you’ve never tried meditation or yoga, now is a great time to start your journey. All you need is a space to roll out your yoga mat or a chair in a quiet corner (headphones help!) and you can gain the skills to make a real difference to how you feel physically and mentally.
Life is about balance and there is a real strength in peace. Take your chance to get out of your mind and into your body – into your true experience of the present moment.
As the nights get longer and colder and the days get damper, the inevitable cold and flu season approaches. Chances are we will all suffer from a seasonal cold; whether it’s a head cold that lasts a few days or something a little more persistent that knocks you back for a few weeks, it’s good to know how you can help yourself to recover.
Waging war on the common cold often seems like a lost cause with most of us resorting to over the counter remedies that allow us to ‘soldier on’ at home and at work. Keeping warm and drinking fluids is good advice, but what if there was something more you could do?
Essential oils have some powerful properties to fight the common cold and can be used as part of a self-care routine that in itself can help you feel much better. Although I wouldn’t recommend casting aside medical advice in favour of home remedies, there are things you could try to complement medical advice that could help you feel better physically and mentally and get you back on your feet sooner.
So what can you do? There are a number of essential oils that have been used for centuries (and proven in modern trials) to combat the symptoms of colds.
Oils you might like to have in your basic care kit:
Cinnamon, clove or rosemary – if mixed with warm water, can be effective as a surface cleanser or room mist to combat bacteria, viruses and fungus
Chamomile (Roman)– excellent at relieving cold and flu symptoms as it has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It also has calming and sedative properties
Eucalyptus (Radiata) – Excellent in fighting respiratory tract infections
Lavender – Excellent calming effects and helps with sleep. Can also be used to treat headaches
Lemon – Has stimulating effects on the digestive system and is great at relieving headaches. Is generally good at uplifting mood and has antiseptic properties (making it great for room mist)
Peppermint – A wonder oil with analgesic, antiseptic, cooling and anti-inflammatory properties. Can relieve mucus and catarrh and relieve headaches
Tea Tree – An all-rounder for cold fighting; antiseptic, antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal. If you find the scent too antiseptic, it can be easily blended with lemon to disguise it.
Thyme (Linalol) – Great at fighting infections or contagious conditions and also at stimulating the immune system.
How to use the oils:
Steam – add up to 4 drops to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam (placing a towel over the head). This is particularly useful for mucus, catarrh and headache relief. Alternatively, to get the benefits of steam and topical application, add a blend to the bath and soak yourself until you feel relief.
Topical application – a foot or hand massage is a great way to get the benefit of the oils and the relaxation of a massage. Add an oil blend to a carrier oil (such as coconut or grapeseed) and massage into hands and feet before bed. Blend the oils in the following quantity: 5 ml carrier oil, 1 drop of essential oil. 10 ml of carrier oil, 5 drops of essential oil.
Room mist or surface cleanser – Adding drops of a blend (up to 6 drops to 500 ml water, test on surfaces before full use) to warm water and shaking well (in a misting spray bottle) can make for an effective surface cleanser or room mist to clear away infectious microbes or bacteria.
Oil burner – get the benefits of the oils while relaxing in front of the TV or a good book. Add drops of essential oil (up to 5 drops) to 10ml of water and heat in an oil burner (over a candle). The room will be cleansed as well as your airways.
Experiment with blends that appeal to you as fragrances as well as for their cold and flu fighting properties and you will find something that works well for your mind as well as your body. Instead of fighting through and carrying on as normal, take some time to care for yourself through bathing with essential oils, giving yourself a massage or relaxing in a candle-lit room with an oil burner. Colds need not be the struggle that they usually are.
Yoga classes are running all through the summer with the Well Nest – why not come along and give it a go!
Yoga is an ancient practice of mind and body that can help improve fitness and stamina as well as reducing anxiety and stress through calming the mind. A regular practice can change your life.
Classes available every week on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Colwich & Little Haywood Village Hall – no booking required, just turn up and practice. We have two friendly, mixed groups practicing regularly. Men and women are welcome and classes are suitable for all levels. Just £5 per class.
My visit to the Om Yoga Show this year provided the chance to try something completely different from the selection of classes available. I usually go for something demanding and full-on so I get a good workout as well as learn from new teachers. As I had managed to book onto two classes this year, I mixed it up with a class on backbends with Ann-Marie Mainprize of Amiyoga in Hull.
The class promised to ‘deepen backbends the Forrest yoga way’ through ‘connecting the core and releasing deep rooted postural tension’ – sounded excellent to me! As I’ve never tried Forrest yoga, that was an added bonus.
I know many people struggle with spinal flexibility and I often advocate core strength as a way of back-bending with confidence, so this sounded like a great way to improve my own knowledge and experience how other teachers focus a class on back-bending safely.
The class focused straight away on opening the front of the body as a way to improve flexibility and stability through the back of the body. We did a lot of strong abdominal work which although simple, was incredibly hard work on the deep core muscles. Lying flat on the back with legs straight in the air we were instructed to press the lower back into the mat and curl up the tail bone – the simple action of lifting in this way (with breath work and holds) was a huge workout for the core.
We went on to work dynamically through sun salutation B, some low lunges and lizard pose with a arrow foot stretch (pressing the top of the back foot down into the mat to apply a deeper stretch to the hip flexor) which was bliss but also agony for my tight hip flexors. We visited the ‘engaged glutes or relaxed glutes’ argument when in wheel and bridge – Ann-Marie was on the side of engaged glutes as it provides greater support for the lower back; something I agree with.
An interesting counterpose to all the back bending was to twist out rather than forward bend to reset the spine. Again there is a lot of discussion around this at the moment, but it was the first class I have been to where twist rather than forward bend was taught. I always found that bending the opposite way was counter-productive when deepening spinal flexion…but that forward fold always seems to really loosen the spine as well. The class with Ann-Marie was a real anatomy class – her knowledge was obvious but she made it accessible to all.
The one issue (which I found last year as well) was the poor quality mats provided for the workshops – almost on the edge of dangerous when in wheel as they were so slippery – this is a show issue not a workshop issue however.
I loved the class with Ann-Marie as it was obvious she was used to teaching all levels of students. Her approach was very instructive but helpful (she had three assistants providing hands-on assists throughout). This was a real workshop rather than a yoga class as poses were broken down with anatomy at the forefront. I would definitely recommend this class for yoga teachers.
The next day (and the day after) the muscles either side of my spine were definitely feeling the work that had been done in this class. The simple but effective core strengthening exercises feature regularly in my practice as well now. Definitely worth taking a class with Ann-Marie.
I’m a big fan of the Om Yoga Show; this must be the eighth or ninth time I’ve been to the show over the years and the third time visiting the ‘Northern version’ up in Manchester. I enjoyed the show last year and generally find it a much more enjoyable experience than the London version of the show.
Travelling to Manchester is pretty easy from the Midlands by train or car and helpfully, the organisers had kept the venue the same as last year; Event City, right next door to the Trafford Centre (and with free parking woohoo!). I went up on the first day of the show (Friday) and arrived at about 11.30 am and was surprised to see a giant queue to get in, stretching all the way into the car park. I got chatting to a fellow yogi in the queue and she agreed that it hadn’t seemed this busy last year. luckily the queue moved quickly and we got inside to find the hold-up had been due to staff trying to fill and hand out goody bags right in the doorway. Just as we got to the front of the queue we were told the goody bag area was causing a hold-up (no kidding) and so we would have to come back later to collect ours. No problem, as I didn’t fancy carrying the massive paper bag round the show with me.
As it turned out, I could have done with the massive bag to carry all my purchases – I still forget that nobody gives you a carrier bag anymore! The freebies inside this year included samples from BIO-Extracts of face cream, anti-oxidant boost and anti-wrinkle boost and some NOUGHTY leave in conditioner. I gently turned down the free sample of cider vinegar (even though I heard a lively discussion about how it can be effective if applied to acne – not sure which is worse; spots or smelling like vinegar??)
What was on
There was a good variety of stands on offer again this year – about 100 to choose from. This included food and drink, equipment, books, music, clothing, retreats and teacher training, meditation aids, and my personal favourites singing bowls and gongs. I played lots if different singing bowls and had a good chat to the owner of the Moon Karma stand (who was also an ashtangi running yoga retreats in Nepal…that went straight on the to do list). There were also three open classes and two workshop areas and a meditation area. The ticket price of £7.50 for one day entry was a bargain as usual as this allowed access to the show and free entry to all the classes in the open and meditation areas. It also included free entry to Vegan Life Live and the Mind Body Soul Experience.
What to do
I started with my usual quick circuit of the stands to find out what was where and who/what I’d like to revisit. Despite the big queues to get in, the show was not overcrowded and it was always easy to see and speak to any of the exhibitors. It was great to see the open classes so well attended. It’s never necessary to queue for more than 5 minutes at the Manchester show to take part in a free class, whereas I have been known to spend 30 minutes waiting at the London show only to be told the class is full.
The open classes this year included traditional Hatha yoga, inversions, singing bowl meditation, chair yoga, crystals, alignment, how to flow, yoga for MS, Kundalini, Kriya yoga, and vinyasa flow to name but a few. There was also a children’s yoga open area. I didn’t have chance to try and open class this year as I had two workshop bookings, but I did stop to watch a few. The Kundalini open class run by KYTA was fascinating; they played some fantastic music which really did help to connect mind and body (and I was only observing!). That one is going on my list for next year. The classes were full, but I didn’t see anyone get turned away so even if you don’t have a workshop booking, it’s worth coming to the show to try a new style of yoga for free. The DRU Yoga area had loads of free taster sessions going on all day as well – I’ve participated in these before and they are well worth the experience. I always think DRU would be the perfect yoga class to get you going in the morning.
The workshop areas were easy to find and the cost of these longer, intensive classes ranged from £5 – £10 for between 60 and 90 minutes – another great value way to try new things with national or international teachers.
Vegan Life and Mind Body Soul Experience
I briefly popped into Vegan Life Live because I know the food on offer is far superior to any of my own creations. As usual there was a great variety of food on offer as well as clothing, books and workshops to look at. I didn’t spend long in the show, but it was busy inside. I visited Home Kitchen Vegan again for the finest Asian food I have ever tasted!
The MBS Experience looked noticeably depleted this year. There were some familiar stands and faces from previous years, but none of the more interesting meditation, sound experiences and alternative therapies that have previously featured. I’d only recommend a visit to this show if there is a particular Tarot card reader or MBS practitioner that you want to see; otherwise it doesn’t have much to entertain you past the 30 minute mark.
Would I recommend the Om Yoga Show?
Definitely! This show remains a real bargain to visit and with all the free experience areas you can make a full day of it without spending more. If you do want a longer workshop, you can see world leading teachers for a bargain price. There is enough to entertain you for a morning or afternoon if you’re not doing an additional workshop or easily a full day with the extras. I noticed that the variety of clothing stands wasn’t quite as diverse this year but I loved the new additions of gongs and stands with a charitable or education focus.
The show desperately needs more areas for meditation and mindfulness and this should be a focus for next year as it was noticeably absent. The noisy atmosphere of the show means that people are often drawn to the quiet areas; and whilst there were places to sit, there were few places to enjoy a peaceful experience and try something new.
The Om Yoga Show is back next in London on 19th – 21st October 2018.
Mountains are often admired from afar for the qualities that they appear to have. Some of these qualities we find beneficial and seek in life: stability, longevity, calm, unwavering and balanced. When we spend some time really contemplating the image of a mountain, we see that it is constant and reliable through the seasons; it is a home for plants and animals; it provides shelter and protection; it abides in tranquility through the centuries.
While it’s often the case that we try not to actively ‘think’ in passive meditation, we can use the visualisation of a mountain in active meditation to assist us in contemplating and finding inner peace. If we spend time on the visualisation we can imagine ourselves taking on the qualities of the mountain.
The Mountain Meditation can be used as a regular practice or as an escape from the rigours of daily life as and when required. I use the Mountain Meditation often as a precursor to sitting with mindfulness of breathing; it acts as a relaxation technique and brings focus before working on expanding awareness.
How to do it…
- Sitting in a comfortable position on a cushion or chair, have the back straight but not tense and the hands resting in the lap.
- Bring the gaze down towards the floor and gently close the eyes.
- Spend a few minutes on breathing meditation/mindfulness of breathing
- Picture in your imagination a mountain – it could be a snowy mountain of the Alps or Himalayas, it could be a forested mountain bathed in sunshine
- Try to bring your image of a mountain into clear focus
- Observe its shape, lofty peak, solid based, gentle or sharply sloping sides, its surface (rocky, smooth, dusty, forested, snowy etc)
- Notice it’s enormous size and how solid and unmoving it is from afar and up close
- Try to bring the qualities of the mountain into your own body – your head becomes the lofty peak, sitting in your chair you are rooted at the base. Your arms become the slopes of the mountain. Feel the sense of uplift from the base of your body projecting through the crown of your head.
- The mountain experiences the force of the seasons – sun, rain, snow, gales. Through it all, it sits unchanging, experiencing all that comes its way
- The mountain never resists, complains or judges – it accepts everything, just being itself
- We can imagine embodying the same unwavering stillness and calmness.
- We can experience the fullness of life and its changes through the seconds, hours, years
- We will experience the changing nature of our minds, our body, the outside world. We will have periods of shade and of light. We can maintain the peace of the mountain throughout.
- Sit in stillness for a while.
- Gently open your eyes and mindfully arise from meditation after around 20 minutes.
What are you doing for yourself this year?
Come and join us for New Year Yoga! Starting on Wednesday 3rd January 2018 at 12 pm
This was my first visit to the Holistic Health Show which is held at the NEC in Birmingham in May each year.
The venue is ideal for this kind of thing so not much needs to be said – lots of space, lots of parking. The parking charge remains scandalous at a £12 flat fee but with free show entry when you pre-register online, you can’t really complain.
Once inside there were goody bags available but it was an immediate bun-fight to grab one before the meagre supplies ran out. As it turns out, it was just a massive paper bag with a cosmetics catalogue inside. I ditched mine as soon as possible as it was a hindrance rather than an help when navigating the very busy show.
The Holistic Health show shares a hall with Hair & Beauty UK. Unfortunately about 80% of the space is hair and beauty with the Holistic Health Show taking up a very small proportion of the event. That said, there were lots of useful stands and exhibitors offering advice, products and workshops. I enjoyed a free meditation session; difficult in the hustle and bustle but worthwhile. There were some great product stands and retailers for aromatherapy in particular.
There was also a free presentation area where speakers delivered sessions throughout the day. I enjoyed a very enlightening session with Cain Leathem of GB Fitness on nutrition and the importance of real ‘personal’ training plan to develop real physical and mental strengths. This appealed to me as I’ve always struggled to gain weight in a health way. I found Cain’s presentation to be genuine and enjoyable.
There was also a large CPD area where sessions could be booked prior to the show and paid for online. A lot of the CPD was very specialised and focused; as a student, I didn’t find this particularly appealing and so didn’t part with my money on this occasion. It might be more worthwhile as a practitioner. Sessions were priced at £15 each but were wide-ranging from therapy for pregnant clients to using essential oils for cancer therapy.
Hair and Beauty UK was an eye-opening experience and was about as far removed from holistic therapy as you could find. I enjoyed looking at some of the bizarre and fantastic treatments in action, but there wasn’t anything that appealed to me in that part of the show.
Unfortunately the holistic side of the show was limited and only took up about 2 hours of my time including the workshop and meditation so it wasn’t a day out. I would go again utilising the free online registration and possibly doing some CPD in the future. It’s not a show that would induce me to part with the £10-£20 on-the-door ticket price however.
The Holistic Health Show is back at the NEC on 20 -21 May 2018
One of the great joys of yoga is that no two teachers are the same. It’s so exciting to experience new flows, styles of teaching and types of yoga to keep the love of yoga alive.
This was the first time I’d managed to book my first choice workshop at the Om Yoga Show (show review can be found here). The session was 90 minutes long for the bargain price of £10. I expected the room to be an uncomfortable, overcrowded affair, but I was pleasantly surprised. Mats were well-spaced and there was enough room to spread out without getting too close to your neighbour (it’s just not very British to touch a stranger – especially a sweaty one).
The workshop was billed as a Himalayan Hatha Yoga series with energy to create freedom and lightness in the body. There were intense sun salutations with upward dog kept on the toes rather than the tops of the feet. Looking around, I could tell that everyone found this a change from their ‘norm’. There were people of all abilities in the class which is always great to see and be part of.
We were put through our paces using fast flows, arm balances, strength postures and some of the most intensive Kriya and pranayama I have ever experienced. The breath holds and transitions worked to cleanse the body, generate heat and still the mind. It was very tough! We worked through standing postures testing balance and strength. We added in fast arm movements to challenge concentration and work alongside pranayama. There were opportunities to try transitions from headstand to side crow and back and chair to flying pigeon to name a few. There were also challenging bound postures which I enjoy but really test the limits of patience and surrender. This was a full body and mind workout. We sweated…a lot.
Yogi Ashokananda was encouraging and warm. Although he moved through transitions quickly he was clear in his instruction – although firm when he spotted we were flagging. He added in asanas and movements I haven’t tried or heard of before (wagtail or cheetah pose anyone?) but they were intense. I really enjoy this physical form of yoga because pushing the limits of the body helps to control the mind. I really found this a transformational session and have since used some of Yogi Ashokananda’s practices in my classes, particularly how to move within postures rather than just the traditional holds. I also really enjoyed using pranayama and kriyas as an integrated practice while doing asanas rather than sitting down and doing them separately.
The only let down for me was the poor quality of yoga mats that were provided. They were slippy to the point of being dangerous in a class such as this where sweat was an inevitability. Holding downward dog was a feat of concentration and resolve. I recommend taking your own mat to the Om Yoga Show if you intend to do a workshop.
We finished with some chanting aloud (again not very British) which everyone engaged with (surprisingly). I’m not familiar with the verse we chanted but many were so it was great to be a part of it. I always enjoy some Om chanting at the end of a class though, it just really fills me with happiness.
Yogi Ashokananda prepared us well for the class by saying “corpse pose is called corpse pose for a reason. You shouldn’t do it unless you feel like you’re going to die. Five straight hours of yoga will make you feel like you’re going to die…you only get to do savasana then”. He stuck to his word…there was no savasana after the most intense 90 minutes of yoga I’ve ever done. But, he was right. I didn’t need it and I didn’t miss it.