Yoga reaches dizzy new heights (or lows?)

“Look at this,” said a male non-yogi friend of mine, thrusting his iPhone screen towards my face. “You can do yoga up The Shard!”

I looked at the screen. There was an image on an email: slender, young, women in tight yoga gear, opening out in warrior two whilst taking in the vibrant lights of London far below.

He continued, “This is what you should be teaching. How cool would that be!”

I looked up at him scrunching my nose. “Nah, I’ll pass thanks. If you did yoga up there, you’d spend the whole time looking out at the view whereas yoga’s about looking within.”

He replied, “Oh I wouldn’t want to do any of that looking in stuff. That would be well scary. I don’t want to go there. But The Shard… that might tempt me to try yoga.”

I liked this conversation. It made me smile. Here was a bloke – a hardcore Arsenal fan (not that I’m stereotyping, of course) – considering yoga because of the cool location. The very location may be so distracting, that he misses the whole point of yoga. But if it gets him on a yoga mat for the first time, then what’s the harm?

Swami Sivananda sitting by the mighty Ganga - not the Thames.
Swami Sivananda sitting by the mighty Ganga – not the Thames.

I heard the other day about yoga classes being offered in a brewery in London. You do a class, then have a beer afterwards. My first teacher training was with the Sivananda school of yoga where even eating garlic is considered a huge no-no. Yoga in a brewery? Swami Sivananda would be turning in his grave if he hadn’t been reincarnated.

I was in Thailand before Christmas and I practiced overlooking some stunning scenery – the incredible beach with the white sand and the glassy sea in the early morning golden light. But those practices were some of the most unfocused practices I’ve ever had. I was so overwhelmed by my surroundings that I was wobbling all over the place.

It’s funny how far ‘yoga’ has come. It’s hip and everyone wants a piece of the action. In London, it feels like yoga’s being offered anywhere and everywhere just to get people through the door.

Give me a scruffy, sweaty, beaten-up old room any day. Just my body, my breath and my mat. That’s what works for me. And who knows – some of those brewery yogis may find that they enjoy the practice in that room with me.

YouTube yoga schmoga

hqdefaultNow don’t take this the wrong way but I’m bored.

This week I’ve seen a YouTube film shared on Facebook by a number of people and it just hasn’t inspired me. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about:

Young, fit, athletic, woman in skimpy clothing doing advanced asana in a stunning location accompanied by suitably calm yet inspiring music.


There’s no end of debate about the commercialisation of yoga, the sexualisation of yoga and a focus on beauty and the aestheticism of the practice.

“Wow, isn’t she amazing. I wish I had a practice like that. I wish I had a body like that. I like her top…” These films may be viewed by some as inspirational – or indeed aspirational – but I feel they take us away from accepting what is. What is possible in this body today?

Yes, the woman in the film has a stunning practice and it’s obviously taken her many years of dedication and hard work to reach this point. I’m sure she’s faced many hurdles along the way too. And I’ll put my hands up – I’m no stranger to watching yoga porn on YouTube. But give me something I This Girl Canhaven’t seen before. I’m getting so bored.

Give me guys in prison learning how yoga can help them find peace. Give me African kids giving Bikram a run for his money. Give me yoga for people with cancer.

For this reason, the thing I’m choosing to share is This Girl Can: an amazing government advert showing how, in a nutshell, this girl can. It’s honest, refreshing and shows what the average woman looks like when she exercises.

Watch This Girl Can and then watch the YouTube clip I’ve seen on Facebook this week. Then tell me which one makes you feel better.

Alternatively, you could come along to February’s yin yang workshop at All Saints Studios this Saturday. The theme for this month is celebrating imperfection. Visit the workshops page for more details.


How yoga helped me scale a 65ft/20m yacht mast

It’s been a delightful (or dare I say ‘jubilant’) Jubilee holiday here in London. There’s been such a feeling of positivity and it’s great to see Union Jacks dotted all over the place.

Hoisting the Jubilee bunting
Moments before the bunting disaster

I, however, was not in London over the actual weekend. I was sailing in Sardinia but the Queen’s Jubilee didn’t escape us. Oh no, we dutifully hoisted our Union Jack bunting but everything didn’t go according to plan. The bunting snapped and our vital halyard (aka bit of rope) got stuck at the top of the mast.

Skipper cursed and we wondered how we were going to get it down. “I’m not going up there” and “I’m petrified of heights” rung out amongst the crew. Skip himself said that he’d only ever managed to get half way up. I said rather quietly that I was willing to give it a go. Heads whipped round and mouths gawped open.  “Are you sure, Clare?” they said. “Yeah, why not. I’ll see how far I get,” I replied.

Before I knew it I was strapped into the bosun’s chair (read: little seat and harness) and was armed with instructions and Skip’s trusty Leatherman. I readied myself at the bottom of the mast by closing my eyes and taking several deep yogic breaths. The line became taught, the bosun’s chair took the strain, I was on my tippy toes and then I was swinging up on my way.

Sad broken bunting

I mentally repeated my mantra in order to steady my mind and I kept looking up, maneuvering myself around the various cables, aerials and bits and bobs coming out from the main mast. Fortunately we were in a marina so the sea was calm but the higher I got, the more I felt the sway and my knees hit the hard mast a few times.

About half way up, the winching stopped for a few moments and I looked down. Thoughts of “oh my god, oh my god, what if ‘x’ happened, what if ‘y’ happened” flooded into my head and I banished them by chanting my mantra out loud. I chanted like there was no tomorrow. After a while, I then moved on to repeating peace mantras:

Om namo narayanaya daso ham tava kesava
Om dum durgayai namah
Om hrim maha laksymai namah

The chanting regulated my breathing and every other thought was banished from my mind. I found out afterwards that my friend on deck had said, “Erm, I think she’s chanting.” I was shouting mantras at the top of my lungs.

Before I knew it, I had reached the top and it was bliss. Ananda through and through. It was peaceful, serene and the views were to die for. I set the bunting free and was very grateful to have my camera on me so I can share the views with you now.

You can just make out the waving crew on deck
The best view in the house

I was very happy to make it back down to terra firma (or at least ‘boat deck’) in one piece and I honestly think that if I didn’t have my mantras i would have chickened out. The power they have to steady your mind is amazing. In everyday life, if I have negative or repetitive thoughts going round in my head, I repeat my mantra. Although Sanskrit mantras are meant to contain more energy, you could try repeating something like ‘let go’ or just a simple ‘om’ in time with your breath. It can be so meditative.

So what’s the message of this post? Surely it’s that mantra chanting can help you reach new heights.

Has yoga ever led you to do something unexpected? Has yoga helped you achieve something? Feel free to share below!

From prison inmates to people with MS: the power of yoga

I had the pleasure of my lovely Lebanese friend, Duna, visiting London recently. We had good chats, went to a yoga class together and she taught me to proper pronunciation of important words such as halloumi and hummus (the ‘h’ should always be a bit breathy).

She and I did our yoga teacher training together in India and then our preggers yoga training in Austria. I’m always impressed by what she’s been getting up to. One minute she’s teaching a class on the beach to 50 people who say thank you by giving a donation to charity, and the next minute she’s teaching inmates at a Beirut prison. Yes, even drug dealers and convicted murderers are getting a dose of Duna. No-one is immune.

I told her that I thought it was amazing, her going into a prison and sharing the power of yoga with all these blokes. Her husband thinks it is terrifying and that his wife has finally lost the plot.

She said how it started off as a one-off workshop, visiting the prison as part of an NGO, teaching a class of laughter yoga. One inmate apparently broke down during the class as he couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed. Despite the tears they loved the class – it was fun and different to anything they’d done before. Duna now visits on a regular basis and she’s noticed how much calmer the guys are the end of each session.

Pics of Duna and I smiling
Duna (right) and I (with balloons) on our pregnancy yoga training course

The benefits of yoga are indeed far reaching. I turned up to teach my regular Thursday night class at a little hall in London Bridge and I found a middle-aged lady standing outside the door leaning on two walking sticks. She asked if I was there for the MS support group and I gave her the disappointing news. She followed me into the hall, heavily reliant on her sticks, and told me how she was meant to be a case study, talking to others with MS about what it’s been like to live with the illness for the past 24 years.

She’d never done yoga before and decided to join the class so as not to have a wasted journey. I told her to only do what was comfortable and just to enjoy it. She certainly didn’t find this too difficult, smiling and joining in where possible during the class. She did her own seated version of surya namaskar, stretching her hands up above her head and brought her head into her bent knees with her feet flat on the floor. I helped her move from sitting to standing and she did shoulderstand with her legs up against the wall. She found this quite entertaining.

At the end of the class she said how much she enjoyed it and that she may even come back.

Yoga can now be found in the most unlikely places and people who aren’t young, free, flexible or nimble can practice. I’m still teaching the triathlete ironmen and have taught people with ME/CFS. We certainly have to be thankful for our bodies, what we’re able to do with them, and also be thankful for our freedom.

No matter who is practising asanas, the benefits felt by all are the same. It unites people and seeing students’ chilled out, de-stressed faces after a nice long savasana is enough to warm the cockles of your heart (definition for those not familiar with old English idioms).

Om shanti.

Can the Kiwis’ Hakka be likened to Sanskrit chanting?

There is a perception out there that yoga is a bit flaky, only practiced by women and a bit ‘spiritual’ – whatever that might mean to people. I remember going to a friend’s party a while ago and being asked by this alpha male city boy, “so do you do any sport?” When I answered by saying that I didn’t really do any sport but I did exercise by practicing yoga, he soon wandered off to get himself another drink.

And so it was with great pleasure that I taught this very chap his first ever yoga class on Monday night. And how he groaned. “You expect us to be able to do THAT?” was his best line during the class.

The group comprised a bunch of predominantly very blokey rugby player types (now who’s stereotyping?), who had never done yoga before. They’d been coerced into taking the class by a mutual friend as they’re training to do their first Ironman. That night I learnt that an Ironman is an even harder version of a triathlon, with the running part alone being the length of a marathon. Apparently under 13 hours is a good time to complete the whole ordeal.

The focus of the class was on injury prevention – by stretching their muscles, the chance of injury during the cycle, swim and run would be much reduced for them.

I decided to pass on the chanting to open the class, mostly because I didn’t want them in stitches (from giggling) before we’d even started. We began by practising yogic breathing lying in savasana, and then moved onto some toe squats to open their toes and feet, strengthening their ankles, combined with gurmukhasana arms. I was also aware that these aren’t the most pleasant thing to do and I hoped it would make them take the class more seriously. Me? Mean? Never…

People performing a toe squat
Toe squat (from

The sun salutations indentified some very tight hamstrings and although they had strong shoulders, they were incredibly tight. Much giggling was had when they looked around at each other and realised who couldn’t touch their toes. I took the opportunity to mention about ego and yoga not being competitive.

Shoulderstand/sarvangasana allowed them to open their shoulders, followed by bridge/sethu bandhasana to open their chest. We focused on opening the hips and hamstrings by practicing butterfly/baddha konasana, baby cradle and then janu sirshasana (seated forward bend with the sole of one foot pressed into the thigh).

Crow/kakasana proved fun with a couple of the guys being able to come up into a headstand on their first attempt.

As the class progressed, the giggling and groaning subsided and they were ready for their well earned final relaxation. After the class, whilst putting their suit jackets on, feedback was positive and I’m teaching them again this coming week. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even introduce some chanting.

Hari om tat sat