Article published in namaskar – Asia yoga magazine

I thought you might be interested to read an article I’ve written for namaskar yoga magazine, based in Hong Kong. It’s a review of my 500 hour training course and I wrote it soon after graduating. It’s now been published.

Happy reading!

500 hours of Absolute Michel Besnard

A personalised approach

namaskar - January 2014
namaskar – January 2014

I was sitting at my desk one grey winter’s day in London within earshot of Big Ben but my mind was elsewhere. A friend had just emailed me a link to the Absolute Yoga website and I was engrossed in reading about the 500 hour teacher training with Michel Besnard at Absolute Sanctuary, Koh Samui.

“Are you ready to take your teaching to the next level?” asked the website. I knew I was. I’d been teaching part time for two years but I felt I needed more confidence to make the transition to teaching full time. The promise of crystal clear turquoise sea and soft white sand lured me too.

Fast forward six months and I’ve now graduated from the training. It’s been an amazing journey. My 13 fellow students came from across the globe – from California to Japan – and Michel Besnard was there for us along the way.

The five-week course was intense and varied. Every day started with a two hour pranayama and Ashtanga Mysore self practice. Some of us had an established Ashtanga practice whereas others – like me – came from different schools and so Michel spent the first week getting us all up to speed.

As the weeks progressed, our morning practices became more personalised. What I particularly appreciated was Michel’s knowledge of both Ashtanga and Iyengar – he’s spent years in India training with both Mr Iyengar and Sri Pattabhi Jois. We used props and he emphasised doing the asanas in a way that suited our own bodies.

He also believes all students should practice elements of the second series. With the primary series focusing on forward bends, back bends such as salabhasana and dhanurasana provide balance in our practice.

Over the weeks, the morning practice continually pushed me. Through plenty of sweat and occasional tears, Michel was there to offer support – and not just by providing physical adjustments.

The rest of the day we learnt about a range of topics. Michelle Lam, a Hong Kong physiotherapist, spent five days teaching us advanced yoga anatomy, we covered Acroyoga and Yin yoga, and we had Carlos Pomeda show us the wonderful world of yoga philosophy. Lucas Rockwood provided many useful insights into the business of yoga and we honed our presentation skills with Akash Akaria, a public speaking expert based in Hong Kong. Suffice to say, the teaching faculty were excellent.

Absolute Sanctuary was a great venue. The infinity pool and steam room were popular for soothing our stretched bodies and we enjoyed watching the stars overhead.

Can you spot a familiar face in there?
Can you spot a familiar face in there?

For me, Michel and his teaching assistant Roslyn made the experience truly special. Their good humour and passion for yoga were ever-present during the course.

With Michel’s favourite phrase being “who cares” he taught us the lesson of acceptance: accepting our bodies and our practice. And where we are today is exactly where we’re meant to be.

Having graduated a few days ago, many of us have flown home to our studios and students, eager to share our new knowledge. I too am looking forward to heading back to London and starting my life as a full time teacher but memories of my 500 hour training will stay with me forever.

For more information about Absolute Yoga visit To find out where Michel is next teaching, visit

Clare has taught yoga in London and Hertfordshire in the UK for the past four years. She completed her 500 hour training with Michel Besnard in Thailand and specialises in teaching Yin yoga. As well as teaching, she is a regular contributor to yoga magazines and you can read her blog at

Have you studied with Michel? What memories do you have of your time together? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Or if you’re interested in finding out more about him, have a read of this post from during my teacher training.

View the full namaskar magazine.

Namaskar article

Teacher training: Stumpy thumbs and yoga… NEW RESEARCH!!

thumbnail of our thumbnailsI am delighted to introduce a co-contributor, Laurie Brockhaus, for this very special and exclusive blog post. Laurie and I have recently made some yoga discoveries. Here we provide you with our ground-breaking research findings.

Last week on our teacher training course we were blessed to spend five days with Carlos Pomeda. We learnt about texts and learnings that are essential to yoga including the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. Carlos shared some of the folk stories from the ‘Mahabarata’ or ‘The great story of India’.

He also talked us through the Hatha Yoga Pradipika – an important text that mentions the term ‘asana’ meaning a seated meditation posture, and ‘mudras’. Mudras are energy locks in the body and traditionally refer to mula bandha (a tightening of the pelvic floor), uddiyana bandha (a lock in the thoracic back), and jalandara bandha (chin lock). However, more generally, a mudra can be described as a gesture that often involves the hands and fingers.

Through further in-depth research, we have discovered a new mudra, known simply as thummudra. The mudra is characterised by bringing the four fingers in towards the palm and strongly engaging the thumb in an upward fashion. It is used by people with toe thumbs or Brachydactyly type D and draws more prominence to the feature. Thummudra helps toe-thumbed individuals draw more prana (vital energy) into the body and harness their personal power.

Below you will find a series of images showing how the mudra can be incorporated into a range of classical asanas. You will also find further information on the Indian folk legend that inspired the mudra.

Use of thummudra in asanas

Navasana (boat pose) gains more buoyancy with thummudra
Extend strongly through heels and toe thumbs in Upavistha Konasana (wide-angle seated forward bend)
In the standard version of Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (extended hand-to-big-toe pose), the drishti (gaze) is to the big toe. When thummudra is incorporated, the drishti is to the toe thumb.
Thummudra increases the fierceness of Warrior II
A wider thumb in a wide-legged forward fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Simple seated meditation incorporating thummudra

Thumbvritta and her thousand stumpy thumbs

Here is the Indian legend that inspired the thummudra. As with many old Indian folk stories, its exact date of origin is unknown but it was probably being told around the same time that Shakespeare was writing in England.

The beautiful and clever Thumbvritta was well known in her Indian village for being the child who spent her days imagining and writing brilliant stories that entertained her family, friends and neighbours. As she grew up, she wanted nothing more than to pursue her love of writing by dedicating her life to studying with talented storywriting elders in the village.

Alas, perhaps due to an accumulation of bad karma in a previous life (or just the tradition of the time), at the age of 16 she was forced into an arranged marriage and had to accept her fate of service to her new husband’s family. This severely diminished Thumbvritta’s time for writing due to all the chores her evil tyrant mother-in-law expected her to do. She was always the first up in the morning and spent her days chopping, scrubbing, washing… her work was never done.

But she could not suppress her urge to write. Late at night, she would sneak from her husband’s bed and steal away to a small dark corner of the kitchen to draft her brilliant stories by ghee candlelight. One night, having grown quite exhausted from her chores, she fell asleep with biro in hand (yes, India has always been ahead of the game regarding writing implements). Early next morning, her demanding mother-in-law was shocked to discover her sleeping, rather than preparing the lentil dhal.

In a fit of rage she picked up a heavy iron pan and slammed it down on Thumbvritta’s right thumb. Thumbvritta screamed in pain and ran away from her husband’s home, determined to never go back. She ran the entire day until she finally collapsed in exhaustion alongside the sacred Ganga river. She allowed her throbbing thumb to rest in the cool water and feared that her thumb’s misshapen form would prevent her from writing. The healing waters of Ganga Ma stroked her injured thumb throughout the night and into the morning.

Thumbvritta awoke to find that not only was she no longer in pain, but she had grown a thousand (stumpy) thumbs, each glowing with the golden light of thousands of unwritten stories.

To this day, despairing people from all over the world visit the site on the Ganges where Thumbvritta grew her thousand thumbs. They wish to gain inspiration in finding a new path and to realise that personal power comes in unexpected forms. They also wish they had stumpy thumbs. Clare and Laurie are really lucky to have them.

Disclaimer: Please contact Laurie and Clare directly for academic references (we’ll cobble some guff together and send it to you).

Read Clare’s previous post about when she and Laurie realised they both had stumpy thumbs.