At the end of next month, my teaching buddy and friend April will be starting a new yoga class in Harpenden. It’s for parents and carers to do with their children. In this guest post, she tells us more about the class.
The Big Dog Little Dog Yoga class was born out of a request on Facebook. On the Harpenden parents’ group someone was asking whether they knew of any yoga classes they could do with their kids.
I did some Googling to see if there was already something like it out there but I couldn’t find anything. There’s lots of classes for mum and baby or toddler but not actually with your kids so I thought it would be fun to start something.
I know that I enjoy having Lincoln and Grace ‘help’ me in my practice at home so the new class format takes in some of that including physical partnering, breath work and relaxation. It’ll also include some experiential anatomy – this is a dance term and it’s when you learn where things are by feeling. You use touch and movement exploration.
It’ll be my son Lincoln’s yoga teaching debut – he’s 4 (start em’ young, I say…) and he will be demonstrating the postures with me. When we practice together I feel that it brings us closer physically and goes beyond normal cuddling.
It’s also purposeful because there’s a physical exchange. So in a twist, we must both rotate our bodies equally to get the benefits of the practice. Or he might need to back bend so I can forward bend. It’s the reciprocal nature of a partnering practice but you’re doing it with your child.
The class offers a chance for the relationship to be one of equality. You’re not just the bossy, nagging mum, dad, grandparent or carer. It also takes you out of the taxi service role of taking your kids to classes. You can do it together and both stay fit, flexible and healthy.
Lincoln was asked why he enjoyed doing yoga with mommy. He said, “it’s fun.” And you can’t argue with that.
Big Dog Little Dog Yoga for children (aged 4-11) and their parents/carers will start Sunday 27 April in the dance studio at Roundwood Park School (AL5 3AE). It will run term-time on Sunday mornings from 10.45-11.30 and costs £8.00 a class (per parent/child couple). For more information, visit April’s website (it’s a work in progress) or email her directly to book.
Cathy Haworth runs BAYoga Studio in Berkhamsted, Herts. She teaches Ashtanga vinyasa yoga and particularly enjoys teaching ‘Mysore’ style classes. I’m one of her Mysore students and I asked her a few questions about this style.
CW: Where does the Mysore style of ashtanga yoga come from?
CH: Mysore is a town in Southern India where the founder of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, Shri K Pattabhi Jois lived. Since his death in 2009 his grandson Sharath continues running the shala and each year thousands of ashtangis go to Mysore to practice with him. I’m planning on visiting for the first time this summer and I can’t wait.
CW: How would you describe Mysore style?
CH: Ashtanga yogais a dynamic style of yoga where movement is synchronised with the breath. There’s a set sequence of poses which are held for five breaths and you then move onto the next posture.
To practice ashtanga yoga ʻMysore styleʼis to practice the ashtanga sequence in a class situation but at your own pace. You follow your own individual length of breath, receiving guidance and adjustments from your teacher on a one to one basis. I, or whoever is teaching, don’t lead the class as such.
Learning the ashtanga sequence may at first appear a little daunting, but myself or your teacher is there to assist and we take it slowly.
As you learn and grow confident in each pose, you’re given new poses by your teacher, making this a very personal journey. Once learnt you have a practice for life.
CW: What’s so special about a Mysore practice?
CH: Moving with your own breath at your own pace enables you to work at your own level, extending the breath as it suits you. We all have different lengths of breath and this way of practicing enables you to be in charge of your own destiny.
It is a disciplined approach to yoga that allows for no opt out of poses because you find them challenging. You have to face up to every eventuality that the pose may bring.
Thereʼs no hiding, and by working with your own breath you can really connect to what may be happening both in the pose internally and externally. By bringing this discipline into your life enables you to be more focused and present not just on your yoga mat but in all aspects of your life.
It gives you the space to be you.
Whilst on your mat, working and moving with your breath, you are able to let go of the outside world and be in the present moment, allowing the real you to shine through.
Once off the mat we take on board the many outside influences that we have accumulated over the years and often act in a very different way to who we really are.
Being on the mat allows us to be true to ourselves and the more you practice, the more you are able to let go of this external ʻbaggageʻ and allow yourself the space and freedom of just being who you really are.
CW: You’ve mentioned before to me about the versatility that these classes offer. How is that?
CH: You don’t have to be on your mat at the very start of a class. You come when it suits you. If you get stuck in traffic, if you have to drop the kids off at school… that’s fine, no rush. The latest start time is one hour before the end of the class.
Classes vary in length from 2-3 hours at BAYoga Studio and if you’re a beginner you’ll need to allow approximately an hour to do your practice. Eventually, as you progress you will build on this to 1.5-2 hours.
One of the many joys of a Mysore practice is that it is very portable. I know that wherever I may be in the world, I’ll have the opportunity of going to a class knowing exactly what to expect from an ashtanga Mysore style class. Get on your mat in Paris, Sydney, New York or India and you know that you will be just fine regardless!
CW: Thank you Cathy.
Cathy teaches Mysore style classes at various times throughout the week. Find out more by visiting bayogastudio.co.uk. On a Tuesday morning she teaches a Mysore style class from 9.15-11.15am and then I teach a yin yoga class from 11.30-1pm at BAYoga Studio. Come along to both classes for only £16. It’s a bargainous morning of yin and yang.
Cathy and I will be teaching an ashtanga/yin retreat together 3-5 October 2014. Visit the retreats page for more details.
Do you practice Mysore style Ashtanga? What do you enjoy about it? Feel free to comment below.
A few months ago I was asked if I’d like to do an hour of yoga in the new Sweaty Betty St Albans shop on the day of the opening. I didn’t say yes immediately as various thoughts were going through my head. I felt torn and here’s why:
4 reasons AGAINST doing yoga in Sweaty Betty St Albans
1. The practice of yoga is about reducing your ego i.e. that sense of ‘I’ and the self. We associate ourselves with everything that’s about the ego – for example: what we look like, what job we do and how we behave. By practising aspects of yoga – the physical asana practice, chanting mantras, and doing selfless service (doing things without an expectation of reward) – we are reducing our ego and connecting with our inner nature i.e. who we really are.
Surely doing yoga in the middle of a shop is simply drawing attention to yourself and boosting that sense of self, fuelling the ego.
“Always watch that ego. Control of the mind and annihilation of the ego are the essence of all yoga disciplines.”
2. Linked to this, humility is the greatest quality for a yoga teacher. As a yoga teacher, it’s about passing on the teachings you’ve received in a humble way and your focus is on your students, ensuring you give them your energy and attention.
You could say that ‘performing’ yoga whilst being surrounded by gawping onlookers instead of students isn’t very humble.
3. Sweaty Betty can be seen as commercial. It’s a business – a successful one – and it makes a lot of money. Indeed, I was reading an article the other day about how they’re starting to give Lululemon a run for their money having opened their first stores in the US.
Should yoga be about making money? It’s a debate that’s been had time and time again. The ancient physical practice of yoga postures in India came about as a way of preparing your body for long periods of seated meditation. It’s really only since the West has got hold of yoga that the physical practice has become what it is today and it’s much more commercial as a result.
4. When you practice yoga, it shouldn’t be about what clothes you wear. This has been drilled into me from my Sivananda background where you wear the baggiest clothes ever and anything goes. Branded clothes are yet another way of increasing our sense of ‘self’. What do those clothes say about us?
However, I must say that now that I practice more ashtanga, clothes are much more important. You get pretty hot and you want that sweat to be taken away from your body quickly. I’ve learnt that technical clothes have their benefits.
4 reasons FOR doing yoga in Sweaty Betty St Albans
1. It’s a chance to meet new local yogis. I have my familiar places where I like to practice. It’s a chance to meet other people who are into the same things.
2. Taking me out of my comfort zone, trying something new, practicing in a new location… I might find it challenging in different ways. I might learn something as a result. We can get stuck in a rut with our practice.
3. You get given free clothes. I know, I know, they give you the free clothes so you’ll wear them when you teach and then students will say, “Ooooh that’s nice. Where’s that top/those leggings/jumper from?” But you know, their clothes feel nice, they’re flattering and yes, I like clothes. So shoot me. Ok, don’t really shoot me. That would be violent and yoga isn’t big on that. You can see that I still have some way to go on the whole ego front.
4. Finally, it takes yoga to new audiences. If you saw someone doing sun salutations for the first time, you might stop and watch. You might not have expected to see such a thing whilst you’re having your normal Saturday morning wander around the shops.
It might encourage you to find out more about yoga. It might even make you go to a class. Yes, it would be great if it was one of my classes but I’d be happy if was any local class.
It’s about raising the profile of yoga. The more people that practice, the more the world will be a happier and healthier place.
And so I did it.
Doing yoga at Sweaty Betty St Albans
From 11-12am on Saturday I found myself on a yoga mat in the window of a shop. It was weird and it was fun.
Sun salutations were interesting as you couldn’t stretch your arms out to the sides as you’d simultaneously hit the glass and take someone’s eye out. At times I felt I was showing the shoppers of St Albans a little too much of my bottom.
I did an hour of ashtanga primary series. In ashtanga there’s talk of ‘drishti’ – where you look during each pose. It might be towards the tip of your nose, your knees, or elsewhere on your body. Also there’s the practice of ‘pratyahara’ – withdrawing your senses and going more inward. I tried to keep both practices in mind during the hour. It was hard.
At one point I noticed an elderly couple standing watching on the pavement. Then there were families with children, and teenagers taking photos on their phones. Drishti… pratyahara… drishti.
I thought about those new audiences. Those new potential yogis in the waiting.
It felt great to share the practice with people who weren’t familiar with it. The staff at the shop were lovely and I was made to feel very welcome. I saw some familiar faces and I met
some new ones too. I was aware of my ego and tried to keep it in check throughout. I was
just doing my practice.
I (and my yogi friend April) might even be doing some guest instructor things there next year so keep an eye out.
Would I do yoga in a Sweaty Betty shop window again?
Yes I would. I’m all up for having a bit of fun and trying something new. And you know, if I wasn’t up for trying something new, I’d never be teaching yoga.
What do you think about this? Would you have done it or would you have run the other way? All comments are valid…
It’s all well and good me saying how great yin yoga is but I thought it would be nice to hear from others to find out what yin means to them. I spoke to a couple of regular students and here’s what they said:
How would you describe yin yoga to someone who’s never practiced it?
Natalie: Yin yoga is a deeply relaxing yet energising form of yoga that encourages you to really breathe into each pose. Poses are held for around five minutes or so and are mostly seated.
Janet: I would say that it’s relaxing and calming. It realigns your body and soothes your mind. We hold poses for five minutes at a time and you only do what is good for your own body.
Louise: I wasn’t excited ahead of my first yin experience. I love ashtanga and I thought yin sounded a bit dull and easy. Not my sort of thing. I quickly realised why everyone goes on about yin being the perfect complement to ashtanga. And it’s definitely NOT easy. Or dull. I find it challenging yet peaceful. Stretching yet relaxing.
Why do you enjoy practicing yin?
Janet: I’ve got sciatica and I know it helps my back. I feel the benefit throughout the whole week! It helps me to feel relaxed, stretched and soothed.
Louise: I generally struggle to clear my mind and relax. Thoughts and tasks always creep in but yin seems to give me an opportunity to really let go and just be.
Natalie: Firstly I love it as a ‘balancer’ to ashtanga yoga. It is wholly complimentary yet completely different in approach and focus. I feel that with this style of yoga I really begin to understand the enabling power of breathing. I am naturally very ambitious and competitive and find yin makes me stop and reflect on why I am doing yoga in the first place.
After a yin session I feel balanced, relaxed and energised. I find it clears my head and helps me focus. I sleep well afterwards and feel less ‘crunched up’ in my posture.
Favourite yin pose?
Janet: I’d have to say particularly the twists as they help my back.
Louise: When you sit on a block and then lie back over a bolster. A kind of active bliss!
Natalie: Seated, with legs over the bolster, leaning forward towards my shins. I find it invigorating and can see a real difference in terms of how much my body opens over the five minutes.
Have you practiced yin? Why do you enjoy it? Do you have a favourite pose? Feel free to comment below.
If you’d like to try yin or continue your practice:
I’m starting a weekly yin class at The Yoga Hall in St Albans from Thursday 17 October.
As part of my Teacher Interview series on the blog, I bring you Dr April Nunes Tucker.
April and I teach workshops together and her main practice is Ashtanga yoga. Originally from California, she’s been teaching for almost 20 years and her classes are challenging yet fun. I talk to her about the interesting journey that’s brought her to Hertfordshire.
CW: Hello April. There aren’t many people in this neck of the woods that can say they’ve spent four years living in a yoga community. How come you made that decision?
ANT: It was 1994 and at that time I’d just finished my first degree in dance. I was working as a waitress in Southern California and a lovely lady at work suggested that I go visit the Mount Madonna Center (MMC) in the mountains in Northern California.
I arrived late afternoon, walked around, had dinner and pitched my little tent surrounded by 355 acres of beautiful redwoods. I felt so fearful of the place that when the sun rose the next morning I packed up and drove away.
That week I was bothered by how I couldn’t quite put my finger on what had frightened me about the place. In an effort to face my fear, I went back.
I was only there a few minutes when a woman stopped me and asked, “would you like to meet with Babaji? He’s just had a cancellation.”
‘Babaji’ is what devotees call Baba Hari Dass. That was my first meeting with the very important man who gave me the tools to better my life through yoga.
Our meeting was surreal. He’s a silent monk who hasn’t spoken for almost 60 years but I felt as though he could read my thoughts. He asked what I did, what I planned to do, and when I told him that I wasn’t sure, he wrote on his chalkboard, “you could live here.”
It took me less than a month to pack up and move to MMC and I didn’t leave for four years.
CW: How would you describe the Mount Madonna Center?
ANT: Baba Hari Dass is the guru and he teaches classical Ashtanga yoga with an emphasis on meditation. This is different to how we practice Ashtanga vinyasa yoga in the West.
The ultimate purpose of practicing yoga is to develop concentration in order to achieve peace. The classical Ashtanga yoga system consists of eight parts:
The first of these is the ‘yamas’ – a Sanskrit word meaning ‘restraints’ – living your life in a non-violent way, being truthful, not stealing, continence and non-hoarding.
There’s also the ‘niyamas’ or observances – having a sense of purity, being satisfied with what you have, undertaking spiritual study and recognising our limited ego-self.
Doing the physical postures or ‘asanas’. These traditionally belong to the system of Hatha Yoga.
Practicing pranayama exercises – breath control.
Observing what’s going on inside, instead of outside (pratyahara)
Developing concentration (dharana)
CW: What was daily life like there?
ANT: Busy! Wake up early, attempt to meditate, walk from my tent or cabin to the kitchen (my first year there I spent in a tent – cabins were at a premium!), help cook breakfast for anywhere between 100-500 people, take a break walking through the woods or practicing asana.
On certain days, attend a class with Babaji, work the rest of the afternoon on a building site or in the garden or scrubbing toilets, eat dinner, wash dishes, sit around chatting, drink herbal tea and then go to bed.
… And then do it all again the next day. It’s based on the idea of ‘karma yoga’ – doing things selflessly.
CW: Tell me about Baba Hari Dass
ANT: Babaji is an incredible human being and a wonderful teacher. He taught me how to be less afraid, concentrate and accept myself more.
One of his well known quotes is: “Work honestly, meditate everyday, meet people without fear and play” and this is what he teaches. I feel his vow of silence allows his teachings to come through with great clarity.
He has a lovely sense of humour, is compassionate and the most remarkable person I have ever met.
CW: Did you learn lessons that you carry with you in daily life?
ANT: I carry the sadhana practice that was given to me by Babaji. It includes chanting, hand mudras, pranayama, kriyas (methods for calming the mind) and meditation. I try and get up an hour before my kids every morning in order to do the practice. Sometimes it gets cut short when they start clambering over me but the intention’s there.
CW: You taught yoga classes there. Was this your first experience of yoga? What were the classes like?
ANT: I taught asana (the physical postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). MMC hosts very big retreats – often with around 500 people – so my first teaching experiences were a baptism of fire!
I was on a stage with a sea of people in front of me and a two other ‘demonstrators’ on smaller platforms either side of the stage doing the same asana as I taught it. Scary!
My only previous experience of ‘yoga’ was doing a little class in the staff room of the restaurant where I worked in California with my waitress buddy who followed Babaji.
CW: What were the other people like who lived there with you?
ANT: There were all sorts of different people there. Some were only staying a month just checking out the scene, others were original devotees of Hari Dass since the 1970s. The people there were as varied as people are anywhere.
I will say that I believe living in a community setting magnifies personalities. It is very good training for looking at yourself when you are irritated with others.
CW: There are lots of spiritual/yoga communities in California. Why do you think that is?
ANT: Everyone is searching everywhere. Maybe I’m being generous but California has a lot of natural beauty and people are open to alternative ways of thinking or being. So Eastern philosophies such as yoga flourish.
Also I think many people who live in California are quite privileged and can ‘afford’ to take time out to work on personal development.
CW: You now teach Ashtanga vinyasa yoga – as popularised in the West by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. What do you think is the best thing about teaching yoga?
ANT: For me, teaching a class has three parts: before, during and after. Before the class I enjoy the discipline of attempting to put the reins on my ego. I try to come into class as open and humble as possible.
During class I try to keep my ego in check – demonstrating humbly, allowing for humour and executing compassionate adjustments as much as possible. I really like that sensation of ‘being in the zone’ where I can intuitively flow through a class.
Sometimes after classes I get a real hit of emotion – love or sadness or joy. I like this because it makes me feel very alive. It’s a direct reflection of our human connection.
CW: If you weren’t teaching yoga or looking after two small children what job would you be doing?
ANT: I would probably be lecturing in a university on contemporary dance. That’s always been my field of interest – particularly human movement and the way that it connects people and communicates meaning. I have a PhD in dance and have researched movement repetition.
I like how Ashtanga vinyasa yoga and my daily sadhana practice rely on repeating certain movements and this links nicely with my specialism in dance.
When I go back to the academic world I hope to continue finding ways for dancers and dance academics to become interested in yoga through my research.
CW: How does the Ashtanga vinyasa practice challenge you?
ANT: I feel that the key to the Ashtanga practice is the repetition. To offer an image, the repetition of the practice is like an anchor – the anchor for a boat out at sea.
Imagine a boat floating on the surface of the water with a big heavy chain with an anchor at the end. The anchor’s chain goes down… down through the water until the anchor embeds itself in the sand on the bottom of the ocean floor. That deep ocean floor is like that part of self that knows it’s all ok – the part of the self that knows peace. It is the repetitive yoga practice (the anchor) that can tap into that peaceful part of the self.
The boat represents the part of ourselves that we identify with most readily – the self that’s pulled this way and that by things we desire. It’s the part of the self which is affected by the weather, the currents of the water and the part that gets angry or sad as seagulls shit on it as they fly overhead.
CW: Complete the sentence: A life without yoga would be….
CW: Thank you for your time April.
April can be found in Harpenden teaching a Sunday morning class at Roundwood School and private classes in people’s homes. She can also be found on Facebook and email. April and I teach yin/ashtanga workshops at Breathing Space in Harpenden and the next one is planned for Saturday 21 September from 3pm – 6.30pm. Visit the workshops page for more details and to book.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga communities/ashrams, I’ve frequented some in India:
Yes, it’s true, I’m going to use this blog post to promote the various yoga things I’ve got going on. I apologise in advance and normal services will resume shortly.
So you may have noticed that I have a new website! The Diary of a Yogi blog has now been subsumed into my Shanta Yoga site so everything’s now in one place. Much easier. If you get a chance, have a look around the site and feel free to give me any feedback. All my old blog posts are still available on here.
I’ve started teaching yoga classes in Hertfordshire and it’s going well. I’m teaching a yin/yang yoga workshop at Breathing Space in Harpenden next month with my friend and wonderful ashtanga teacher April Nunes Tucker. She’ll lead 1.5 hours of ashtanga and then I’ll teach yin for 1.5 hours.
I’m also teaching at a little place called the Mead Hall in Wheathampstead. It’s a WI (Women’s Institute) hall and has central heating and a lovely wooden floor. Before teaching yoga, I would never have got quite so excited about flooring or heating. Yoga at the Mead Hall is a gentle affair and we do lots of warm ups, some standing and seated poses and a lovely long relaxation at the end. Everyone goes at their own pace and it’s very friendly.
I’m also trying out teaching a weekly yin class in a yoga/pilates studio in Southdown, Harpenden. I can’t seem to find anyone else offering a regular yin class in the county. I’m aware that that might be because no-one’s interested but you’ve got to give these things a go, right?
I’m spreading the word by going door to door getting my hand squished in letterboxes (some are lethal. Lethal, I tell you). I’m also getting really good at laminating and asking shops to display them. Even the village butcher got a flyer. I had a lovely yoga natter in the beauty salon with a lady who was getting a manicure.
Yin yoga Berkhamsted
BAYoga Studio is a great ashtanga studio in Berkhamsted run by Cathy Haworth. I’ve been going to Mysore classes there and will also be running a yin yoga workshop there on Saturday 15 June. It’ll be two hours of yin yoga and it should be lovely.
If you’ve never heard of yin yoga before, have a read of a blog post that explains the practice.
And if you’d like to find out more about my classes, all the details are listed on the class schedule page.
Anyway, that’s about it. Thanks for bearing with me while I go on about my classes. It’s not all about me, me, me you know.
Some of you may be wondering how I’m settling back in to life in the UK after five months away. Well, I can say that’s going alright. I went away to deepen my yoga practice and I feel that it’s paying off.
Last weekend I skyped my thumb chum Laurie who I met in Thailand doing my 500 hour training. We talked about how our five weeks of learning ashtanga has benefitted our yoga practice immeasurably.
Michel adjusting me in class
A year ago I was tentatively dipping my toe into a beginners ashtanga course prior to going away. Now when I practice ashtanga, it feels like a pure meditation. Every movement flows with the breath and, ok, so I forget the sequence from time to time but it works. It makes me feel so alive.
Since being back in the UK, I’ve had teachers come up to me at the end of classes telling me that they could watch me practice all day. They’ve asked me where I learnt ashtanga and I tell them to seek out Michel Besnard. I am so grateful to him and Roslyn.
I remember him saying that the gift he was giving us was an ashtanga Mysore self practice but really he’s given me so much more than that. I’ve learnt so much about myself and I love Michel’s motto of ‘who cares!’ Who cares if you can’t do a backbend/sit in lotus/ lift your leg as high as the person next to you etc etc. Just enjoy your practice.
Laurie was saying the same thing. She’s based in St Louis, Missouri, and is now on the teaching faculty of a 200 hour yoga teacher training at the studio where she works. We feel so lucky to have had the experience.
I feel that everything that I’ve learnt over the past few years is coming together in my teaching. Before my time with Michel I would never have focused so much on standing postures or suggested to
students that they lift their middle toes to engage the muscles in their legs. In the class at the Yoga Hall I threw some yin postures into the mix, whilst also teaching some Sivananda-based pranayama and relaxation.
While students laid in savasana, I speedily made herbal tea in the kitchen for everyone after class. Swami Sivananda looked on with his reassuring eyes from a picture on a cupboard door, and a postcard of Swami Vishnudevananda was blu-tacked onto the wall above the mugs. It’s a lovely place and I feel at home there. Their satsang/chanting evenings once a month are wonderful too.
I’m also lucky to have met an ashtanga teacher out near me in Harpenden who is fast becoming a good friend. In jolly proper Harpenden you’d be hard-pressed to find many Californians who’ve lived in ashrams and follow silent gurus… but I found one! April is inspiring me to keep up my daily practice and we have plans to run a local ashtanga/yin yoga workshop together.
I’ve also decided that after ten years, I’m done with living in London. I’m happy to work in an art gallery there for a couple of days a week but it feels too busy and stressful. Hertfordshire’s fields, fresh air and friendly people are a-calling. I just need to work out how I can afford a car and a flat. I can’t live with my parents forever…
Any of my 500 hour training buddies reading this? How has the training affected your practice and teaching? Feel free to leave your comments below.