‘It helps me feel good in my own skin’
‘It really relaxes me and calms me when I am feeling stressed or anxious’
‘Yoga is amazing!’
‘It helps with stress and is a great exercise’
Current 6th form group, John Masefield High School
Here’s what to expect…
It’s a lovely room – warm in winter, cool in summer. It’s peaceful. No one can see in!
Some come with a friend, some come alone. No more than 12 in a class. There isn’t time to feel awkward because we just get started …
To begin, everyone gets a mat and blanket off the shelf and starts by lying down comfortably. Alison talks through a short relaxation. Just lying down for a few minutes, not having to do anything feels good!
The first movements we make are slow, steady and in time with our breath whilst we are lying down. Alison describes them and demonstrates. Gradually we move more. Sitting, standing, lying on our fronts, our sides …
But there are always different ways of doing things because we are all different. We’re never expected to be able to do the same thing the same way.
Whilst working on these yoga poses we pay more attention to our breath, maybe balancing at the same time. We remain fully involved in what we’re doing. You literally can’t remain in some of these yoga poses without full attention! Yoga is mindfulness in action. Yoga practice gives time and space away from distractions … you’d be surprised how refreshing it is not to be thinking about all the usual stuff … and surprised about how you really do switch off from all that. It gives greater focus, strengthens concentration.
We stretch, strengthen, bend forwards, backwards, sideways, twist, turn, balance and go upside down! Literally seeing life a different way – it helps!
Everyone’s favourite part last … We finish lying down, covered up with a blanket for AT LEAST 10 MINUTES, SOMETIMES 20!!! Alison talks us through a relaxation or concentration practice. Sometimes it’s one we know, sometimes it’s new.
We stretch gently, put our mats and blankets away … feeling calmer, walking taller.
No judgement. No time to say much. Safe. Comfortable. So relaxed!
Alison teaches us how to use stress busting Yoga for whenever we need it
Why is it harder to be as kind to ourselves as we are to those we love?
How often do we keep going when we’d advise a loved one to take a break?
How often do we hear our own inner commentary on how we could have done better / looked better / coped better?
Do you say to yourself: I used to be …. Or, I’ll be OK when I ….
All very well in the short term - we can all get lots done when we need to – and sometimes we must. It’s good to have goals, to make improvements. We may, however, get stuck in a cycle of pushing ourselves. We forget how to stop striving.
When I was a busy primary school teacher, I focused on making learning fun and enjoyable for all abilities, happy to go the extra mile. It was a revelation to me when my yoga teacher said that not everything needs 100% effort. I discovered that sometimes what I was doing, was good enough already. The extra mile was unnecessary. Although long ago, that epiphany has always stuck with me! (Thank you, Sue!)
So why do we do it?
Maybe it’s part of our culture – being judged and wanting to succeed? Looking for approval? To know we’ve tried our hardest? I now recognise a niggle of self-doubt; a little lack of self-confidence will cause me to re-visit my perfectionist ways!
So to anyone else who finds this rings true, know that you are good enough already, just as you are. This has been our theme in Yoga this term, studying Santosha – contentment from within – acceptance from within – acceptance of each moment – acceptance of oneself.
Practices to work on to encourage Santosha could include:
Concentration on a strong foundation - standing our ground - balanced with lightness in the upper body – not too much effort. Whilst holding Warrior 1 with a balance of strength and lightness, a whispered or silent “san” on an in breath and “tosha” with the out breath reinforces our aim. Apply this in Mountain posture for a covert Yoga practice – anytime, anywhere.
Space and Time:
Making space and time to allow our bodies and minds to extend, de-compress and release … Using mini yoga sequences learnt in class to practice at home…. Setting aside just 5 – 10 minutes for a short but unhurried Yoga practice could help lead towards greater satisfaction, acceptance - contentment.
With a little more space and time set aside, notice the little things we feel thankful for. When this feels hard, when life is more turbulent, it is especially good to do. Try to list five things daily. Space and time to nurture a sense of gratitude leads us towards acceptance which leads us towards contentment.
Notice when you are tense - where has tension built up?
Notice when you are knocking yourself - doubting yourself, or striving too hard, when it’s all effort and no ease…
And breathe out with an audible sigh, actively letting go of tension, doubts, self-criticism …
You could combine your sigh with a forward bend or with Apanasana.
Ease and Effort:
Balancing the amount of effort put in, with relaxation could hold the golden key that leads to contentment from within. Effort without straining … Relaxation without heaviness. Apply it to your Yoga poses. Apply it throughout your day.
Find out more at one of my weekly classes or ask me about 1:1 Yoga practice, tailored to your needs.
Practicing Yoga returns me time and time again to a state of better balance, harmony and peace. Yet these benefits remain with me long after I’ve put my mat away. I know that my calm, my clarity of thought, of concentration and contentment which do not desert me at times of stress are anchored in Yoga. Hearing my Teen Yoga group compare how they have managed stress during the run up to their A-levels illustrates that since starting Yoga, they too have recognised their ‘reservoir of calm’.
Your internal reservoir of tranquillity...
A source of calm to draw upon as needed – what an amazing resource! Do you still recognize the calm, contented, comfortable in your own skin inner you?
Even fleeting glimpses of feeling ‘more you’ whilst relaxed on holiday, or how you feel whilst absorbed in creating: painting, playing music, gardening… lets you know that peace does lie within. Yoga practice nurtures this. It teaches us that we do have a place of calm within, however far away that may feel. Even just the knowledge of that can help during difficult times, when peace, contentment and the ability to relax feel distant.
‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10.) … Through Yoga practice we get to know our inner self, our essence, our spirit (whatever beliefs you may have.) Top up your reserves of inner calm and learn to draw upon them through regular Yoga practice. Whether you are feeling lethargic, hyperactive or somewhere between the two, allow yourself five to ten minutes of Yoga practice.
Be still – lie in relaxation pose, sit in Egyptian chair pose or stand in Mountain pose and notice what you feel you need. Relax your jaw, soften your eyes and brow, relax your hands and actively release tension from your limbs, abdomen and buttocks. With no agenda to make changes, enjoy the rise and fall of your breath.
Then follow your instinct:
Top up your reservoir of calm at one of my weekly classes or ask me about 1:1 Yoga practice tailored to your needs.
To me, Yoga means balance. It translates as ‘to yoke’ ‘to harness’. I think it is our attention that must be yoked or harnessed. The original mindfulness. Yoga is the stilling of the mind – being in the present moment is the golden key!
In class, you will hear me instructing you to allow your breath to settle into a natural rhythm, just as if you are at home relaxing with a book, listening to music or watching TV. Whatever movements we do, follow this natural rhythm of breath. It is this awareness of our breath, letting our movements follow the breath that keeps us focused, present. It is our breath that balances body, mind and spirit.
Try noticing your breathing habits at different times of the day, during different activities. Is your posture allowing fresh oxygen into your lungs and stale air out? Are you tense, your breath shallow? Or relaxed, your body spacious, allowing your chest and abdomen to expand and condense with full rhythmic breaths?
Try this practice which helps co-ordinate movement with breath:
Whilst sitting, (feet flat on the floor), standing or lying aim to relax with good spinal posture. Without changing it, notice your breath enter and leave your body. Become interested in its ebb and flow. Feel how and where your body rises and falls with the ebb and flow of each breath.
Now gently uncurl and curl your fingers in time with your breath… After several breaths gradually add more stretch to your fingers, thumbs and hands …Now as you uncurl the fingers also rotate your arms outwards from the shoulder joints so your palms face forwards if standing or sitting - or the ceiling if lying … and return the arms as the fingers release and curl once more.
Concentrate on allowing your natural rhythm of breath to lead the movements. You might try this for three or four minutes or for a little longer. How did it leave you feeling? Let me know…
Come and join a class to learn more!
Membership of IYN recognises that whilst my teaching embodies the philosophy of Yoga it demonstrates excellent practical skills, knowledge, safety & care and is rooted in ongoing personal practice.
Yoga with Alison
Yoga classes in Wellington Heath
Yoga classes in Ledbury
Copyright Alison Skinner, 2016
Tel :01531 635226 / 07783 607477
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Photographs by Phil Martin