Teaching yoga and it's many lesson

teaching yoga

My love affair with yoga began 15 years. You'd think I'd know all there is to know about yoga by now, but I am constantly amazed at how the practice keeps unfolding and revealing a little more, both to me and of me! Over the past few months I have been journeying along the 'yoga teacher training' path with a group of incredible women, all studying for different reasons. I have no doubt that the experience of learning about yoga has been transformational for them - there's no way that it can't be when you are learning so much about such a wonderful subject! But I have been surprised at how much I've discovered personally through teaching this course; about the depths of yoga and all it offers and about myself as a teacher, a student, a person. 

Yoga is so many things to so many people. The word 'yoga' is commonly described as 'yoke' or 'union'. It's about connecting our mind, breath and body; ourselves to the world around us, to the life-force that flows within and without. Yoga is about finding balance through that connection, calming the 'fluctuations of the mind'. And yoga is about transformation, as we move along the path of Ashtanga towards 'samadhi' or enlightenment. 

As I teach, I learn more and more about the roots of yoga, the heart of the practice and the essence that goes far beyond the physical postures. And I learn about myself. I have gained a far deeper awareness of how I feel in my own body.  As I start to listen to my body I can hear when it isn't happy and I try to make changes to overcome this. 

So what are the main things that teaching yoga has taught me? To watch and observe, notice the tightening of someone's brow and the clenching of their jaw, and encourage them to move a little more gently. To notice when a new student appears nervously at the door and always offer a smile! And to know that when I'm having a day that's not so great, if I smile this is reflected back to me too. To not be greedy. One of the yamas (like a moral code) in yoga is Aparigraha, non-greed, and this comes up both when watching my students grasping for an asana and as I develop my teaching business. Teaching yoga is my job, but how much do I need to earn? How much work do I need to do? This is so different for everyone but it has been something I've reflected on a lot recently when discussing the 'business' side of teaching with my students. 

But the biggest lesson Yoga has taught me is to be accepting. As I teach my trainees about the stretch response I am reminded  that when we try to force the body beyond it's natural range of motion it tightens up. But when we accept, breathe and let go of expectations our body starts to slowly unfold like the petals of a flower.

Acceptance does not mean we just sit back and let life happen to us. Yoga also reminds me that if we focus on our goal and practice, practice, practice, all is coming. But as the saying also goes, 'grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference'. The more we can accept, the more content we become, the less our monkey mind disturbs us and perhaps the closer we get to Samadhi. This is a life-long learning for me.

If, like me, the practice of yoga is something that enriches your life why not embrace this and join us on our next 200 hour yoga teacher training course in Sussex this Autumn?! Our down to earth approach helps you to fit the course around your work, life and family - we know how tricky this is! Find out more here or drop us a message here

***I have been writing this blog post all week, but my days are no longer my own and I have been trying to steal a few minutes in between the totally consuming task of raising a willful almost 8 month old. THIS is the greatest lesson in acceptance I am learning so far, but that's for another post!***

Yoga & Mindfulness - our summer holiday survival guide!

The summer holidays are here, which for many means a juggling of work and childcare, entertaining bored kids whilst trying to maintain a job, cook, shop, wash, think, breathe.... 

So how do we find the balance between looking after our family and looking after ourselves, especially when the time we have is stretched even further during the school holidays? Here are a few things  I try my best to do so that I can truly enjoy the precious time I have with the people I love without feeling stressed! 

Put the phone/laptop down! This is easier said than done, especially when you are running your own business. Children learn by example and it has been proven time and again that screen time has a negative impact on them. It's also a very easy way to get distracted with something that really isn't important, like checking our facebook feeds! So when we are with the kids / family / friends, make sure we really are with them 100%. 

Set time aside to do something fun. It seems like a bit of a shame that we need to schedule time out of our busy lives to enjoy with loved ones. However, if we can set time aside then we don't feel guilty about the fact that we aren't doing something else (like working) because we have already dedicated the time to doing something fun. That old 'work/life balance' thing comes into play here, but it is important. Perhaps if it's in the diary it's easy to stick to?

Be present. The previous two both relate to us being present in what we are doing, being mindful. To practice mindfulness we don't always have to be sitting cross-legged in a quite room focusing on our breath. We can be mindful in everything we do by bringing our awareness to the now, which helps us to fully enjoy the moment. When we are with people we love, whether it's kids, partners, friends, family, actually being present with them is so important. If our mind is elsewhere we are not making the most of that time, and the people we are with can sense it. It can be harder to connect and often this leaves us feeling unsatisfied. 

Make time for ourselves. In my experience, when I don't look after myself I have nothing to give out to others. Running on empty leads to tension, stress, snappiness and ultimately an unhappy family which makes me sad! So whilst it is important to put time aside to do fun family activities, it is also important to set aside the time for an evening jog, a yoga class, a quiet cup of tea, a long bath... whatever you enjoy.

Don't expect too much from yourself. Practice Ahimsa - non-harming - by being kind to yourself rather than being hard on yourself! Often the biggest expectations are the ones we put on ourselves. Sometimes we need to do our best, but sometimes we need to do what's just good enough, because this is still enough. So maybe, whilst we are being amazing parents during the school holidays we won't be winning best employee of the month, but that's ok! 

Share the things you love with the people you love. If you love doing yoga and you are struggling to find the time to do it because you are looking after everyone else, why not get them doing yoga too? Sharing activities that we enjoy with others is a great way to strengthen bonds, form new connections and common ground. 

....on that note, I thought I'd share a few partner yoga practices with you. These are great to try with the kids and a brilliant way to create a bit of light-hearted calm.

Partner chair pose (utkatasana) - stand facing your partner and hold their right hand with your right hand. Both bend your knees and lean back so that you are pulling slightly on each other's arms. Lift your left arm and bring it behind you, turning towards the arm as you come into a twist. If your partner is a lot smaller than you, let them lean out as you stay more upright to support them, otherwise you can both lean out and twist.

Lizard on a rock - come to a childs pose (balasana) with your knees together. Let your partner bring their back against yours as they lie over you. Their legs may be bent or straight, feet on the ground for support. Allow them to release into a backbend as they drape over your back, letting their hands to hang. Depending on the size of your partner, you may be able to swap positions.

Seated forward fold (paschimotanasana) - sit facing each other, with your legs straight and the soles of your feet against your partners. Bend your knees slightly and take hold of your partner's hands. Gently lean back, drawing them into a forward fold over their straight legs. Check in to make sure it isn't hurting. 

Back to back breathing - sit comfortably with your back against your partner's. Close your eyes and focus on the feeling of your back against theirs. Notice how your rib-cages move as you breathe in and out. Can you feel when your partner is breathing in and out? See if you can synchronise your breathing for a few moments, tuning in to each other's breath. 



Santosha (contentment) and finding happiness

santosha blog post

One of my first yoga teachers said to me that I would never be completely content. I thought she was right, but I've come to realise that we all have the ability to be content and that this is the heart of true happiness. Santosha, the sanskrit word for contentment, is an important part of yoga practice. Being present, mindful and OK with what we have right now allows us to enjoy this moment. But it can be hard to cultivate or to maintain. 

I draw a lot of my lessons in life from surfing, sometimes it's a cliche but it works for me! I used to sit in the line up and look down the beach, and the waves always seemed to be breaking better there. However when I got out, walked down the beach and paddled back out, surprise surprise, the waves were exactly the same. Yoga has taught me a similar lesson. Whilst I don't see the need to practice on a yoga mat, I do understand the symbolism of it. When we practice yoga we are not looking at what anyone else is doing, we are looking inside ourselves, a space definted by our mat. When we do look around at other people on their mats, notice someone elses external pose and compare ourselves to that we loose our focus. This is not yoga.

So, how does this relate to our lives and our happiness? Over the years I have longed for other things, mainly sandier beaches, bluer sea and warmer sun! I have found it difficult to settle because there is always somewhere else to be and something else to do. My lack of contentment has taken me on many adventures and I would never change this. It has given me lots of memories, but it hasn't always made me completely happy.

Life goes in phases - there is the time to fly the nest and gather experiences and there is the time to settle and make a new nest. As I reflect on the last 6 months I feel happy that I have the things that are truly important to me, love and family. And as I prepare for my new family I know that my life isn't perfect and it certainly isn't the life I had imagined a few years ago. I dreamed of travelling with my baby on my back, bringing it up in different countries, settling somewhere hot and sunny and definitely surfing more than once a year! But I had to make a decision, what did I want more in my life - all of that, or love and family. My husband and I can't travel right now because we have a responsibility to be here for my stepson. My life doesn't 'look' the way I imagined it would, but it 'feels' even better than I could have imagined. 

In a world where we are constantly seeing visual representations and portrayals of other peoples lives in a way that they (or the marketing companies) want us to see it, it can be hard to ascertain how any of it feels to those people. Usually we assume they must be happy because their lives look so perfect, and often we think that we, too, would have that happiness if we had all the things those people have. However, once our basic needs are met our happiness doesn't change that much regardless of how much more or less stuff we have, and we can't have it all! Working out what are the most important things to us right now and forgetting about all the other things we could have helps us to find contentment and ultimately happiness. And my guess is, usually the most important things to us aren't 'things' at all.