Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Yoga Selfie Debate: to selfie or not to selfie?

Ah the Yoga Selfie. Such problems you pose me with! To preface this post, I am going to ruin my conclusion and let you know that I am in two-minds about the Yoga Selfie (this would have got me zero marks at Uni; "never sit on the fence" our lecturers would say). But before you click away, now knowing the conclusion, you may want to read my reasons why...and then maybe enter the debate yourself...this is one I really would love to hear your opinions on, because a) everyone loves a good debate, and b) one day I may be able to topple off the fence and actually make a decision.

I confess that I am guilty of posting the odd Yoga Selfie. On quite a regular basis. Okay, fine, on almost a daily basis. [Insert gritted-teeth-kind-of-smiling emoji]. But it's still something that completely divides my opinion. On the one hand the whole premises of yoga is based on letting go of your ego, on going on your own private journey; the Bhagavad Gita tells us that "Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self", and most definitely not "posing for the Yoga Selfie, posting the Yoga Selfie, to get likes of the Yoga Selfie". Sorry, terrible comparison, but you get my point! It really does seem like it's all a vanity game. And I know I play it all too often. Not necessarily because I'm vain, but more because I feel that if I didn't I would be losing out on potential exposure (something which is becoming increasingly important as more and more yoga teachers graduate from their teacher trainings).

It seems as though the yoga world has created this twisted merry-go-round that one feels they have to ride on, but equally riding on it makes you feel nauseous with the feeling that you might be compromising your integrity as a true yogini, but if you don't ride it you will miss out on opportunities and exposure and potential clients, but if you weren't active on social media clients and studios might not take you on because you don't have enough exposure...and so on. Phew. I feel sick just thinking about it. I think we need to break this down into two very simple categories: Pros & Cons.

Pros of the Yoga Selfie
  • It's a quick way to connect with your students. Many of them are now on social channels and actively use them on a regular basis. If they see you posting Yoga Selfies they may be reminded about your class that evening, or may show your pictures to a friend, who may then also become a student.
  • Yoga Selfies help to attract relevant business opportunities. Businesses love social media, and many of them are constantly on the look out for professionals in their field to help promote their brand to their own followers. I have had a couple of relevant business opportunities as a direct result of my Yoga Selfies, mainly being given free yoga clothes and being asked to write two articles for an online health magazine. And the more "insta-famous" (terrible phrase) you become, the greater and more significant these opportunities become. 
  • It's a good way to promote your classes and events. A striking Yoga Selfie will potentially encourage people to sign up for your classes and events - if you catch their attention with a visually appealing photo then they are much more likely to read the blurb below. I've had a few people sign up to my retreats in this way, and also to some of my classes. 
  • They can promote diversity within the yoga community. I will make the counter argument to this in the Con arguments, but there are a few wonderful Instagram accounts with many a Yoga Selfie promoting diversity within the community. Boys of Yoga are doing a great job in showing that yoga is most definitely not just for girls, and the gorgeous Dana Falsetti and Valerie Sagun AKA @nolatrees and @biggalyoga are showing that curvy ladies can have a damn impressive asana practice too. 
  • Yoga Selfies can help to inspire people. If done in the right way (i.e. safe alignment, not putting your life in danger for the photo etc) Yoga Selfies can be super inspiring. They can sometimes be like artwork, such as Nude Yoga Girl's incredible photos, which is a fantastic example of Yoga Selfies done right. They can also inspire people to keep progressing with their practice, to see what they might also be able to achieve one day with hard work and dedication to their yoga practice. 

From the @nude_yogagirl Instagram page 

Cons of the Yoga Selfie
  • As I touched on in the introduction to this post, yoga is meant to be a personal practice. One which isn't actually at all concerned with how you look on the outside, but much more about how you look on the inside. Yes the asanas are fun to practice, and can be incredibly impressive visually, but their true purpose is simply to help prepare our bodies for a state of meditation. Not to look fancy and show off on Instagram. 
  • Some are outright dangerous. I have seen some appalling Yoga Selfies by some very well known accounts. The problem is that many of these "insta-famous" (again, EURGH) yogis are actually self-taught and don't practice safe form in many of their photos. I am not going to call out individuals as that's not very kind of me, they are only trying to inspire others, but there is one account in particular where I have seen a collapsed lower back, hyper-extended legs, and a knee bending way over the ankle in Warrior II (and this one was even endorsed and reposted by a very well known yoga brand!). And not to mention the photo where she is performing a handstand on the edge of a very tall building. GULP. Unsafe form and risking your life for a Yoga Selfie is not cool. Yes it looks incredibly impressive, but it's not yoga. Rant over. 
  • It encourages vanity. I know that when I post a Yoga Selfie more often than not it's taken 10 shots to find the one I am happy to post. I am even ashamed to admit that the first ever Yoga Selfie I posted I edited my waist to make it look smaller (since then I've never done that again, I felt too awful to be deceiving people - and myself). And then when I post up a Yoga Selfie of course I am keen to see how many likes it will get. Sometimes if it gets a lot I am genuinely happy, and if it doesn't get many I can often feel miffed. Is the asana I'm doing not impressive enough? Do I look too fat? Am I not as good as other yogis? [SHUDDER]. These thoughts are vain and also incredibly sad. And completely unrelated to my worth as a yogini or a human being. 
  • To counter my "it promotes diversity" point in the Pro section, it can also do the opposite. A large majority of the Yoga Selfies we see online are posted by slim, white, young ladies. Of course there are some gorgeous, genuine and talented slim, white young yoginis, but what does this do for the rest of us? There is little body diversity, little race diversity, and it is largely female dominated. The Yoga Selfie may be helping to perpetuate this image and may be putting some people off of trying yoga... 
  • It puts too much emphasis on the asana (physical) practice. The Western world is largely more concerned with the asana practice than it is the other aspects of yoga, and the Yoga Selfie exacerbates this. Of course this is a very sweeping generalisation and isn't true for everyone, but there are so many other aspects of yoga that are equally important - Yamas (ethical observations), Niyamas (social observations), pranayama (breath control), and the 4 stages of meditation, are not emphasised nearly as much. The asana practice is beautiful and integral one to a rounded yoga practice, but it is only one small part. Spiritual enlightenment cannot be achieved through asana alone (despite what might seem otherwise on your Instagram feed!). 
So now I've explored the pros & cons, I'm sure you can see my dilemma. On the one hand if you don't post Yoga Selfies you might be missing out on opportunities, exposure to new clients, and a fun way to connect with existing ones. And sometimes they really are just a harmless bit of fun and genuinely inspiring. However there are some real moral question marks behind the Yoga Selfie - ones which are hard to ignore. So far I have seen them as a necessary evil to help me make a name for myself as a yoga teacher, but I am realising that from time-to-time I lose sight of them as a business tool and they do feed my ego. This is when it's a problem. I suppose the answer is to separate business and pleasure in my mind, but this is difficult to do when your in a business of something you are deeply passionate about. Hmmm. 

It's something that I'm going to have to consider more deeply. So in the meantime do you have any input on the debate? What are your thoughts on the Yoga Selfie? Be brutally honest (but preferably without being mean!). I really would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

Love & light beauties, 

L x

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Attitude of gratitude

Is it just me or does it feel as though the majority of the Western world is in constant pursuit of more, more, more? We are sold an image of a future life in which we'll have a nicer home, a better car, an updated wardrobe - it's almost like a competition, keeping up with the Jones's if you will. I know I'm generalising and exaggerating somewhat, but I also know that I'm guilty of sometimes wanting "more", and I feel we could all do with a little reminder from time-to-time that what we have in this very moment is all we ever really need. We could all benefit from being a little more grateful. By my books one can never practice enough gratitude!

Yogi Bhajan says that "An attitude of gratitude is the highest form of yoga" - not practicing asanas (postures), not breathe control, not even meditating - nope, gratitude is the winner. And without making this post all about yoga (I promise I won't!), Yogi Bhajan was a pretty wise guy, and really that sentence could read "An attitude of gratitude is the highest form of life". After all a grateful life is a happy life. If you're grateful about what you do have then you are much less likely to be bothered about what you don't have, and this will surely lead to greater happiness! Something we are all seeking.

And if you need further convincing of why gratitude is essential to your life then have a read of this recent Yoganoymous article on why Grateful People are Healthier.

So, gratitude makes us happier, it makes us healthier, but how do we go about practicing it more regularly and effectively? Here are some of my ideas:

1) Take a little more time over, and show a little more appreciation for, the "small" things (which are actually much bigger than they first seem!). Having a hot shower. Having a snug duvet. Enjoying a cuppa. Become more mindful when undertaking these simple day-to-day pleasures, by taking a little more time over them and saying to yourself beforehand "I am grateful for this shower. I am grateful for this duvet. I am grateful for this drink". Not only are you practicing gratitude, but I can almost guarantee that said activity will bring you even more pleasure than it usually does.

2) Write Thank You notes. Whether it's a "thank you for my birthday gift", "thank you for having me over", "thank you for being such a great friend", a thank you note never goes unnoticed.  It's a wonderful practice to cultivate as you are openly expressing gratitude to your love ones, meaning you are both practicing gratitude yourself and showing people that their kindness is appreciated. This will create a cycle of gratitude and goodness!

3) Wake up and practice gratitude! Don't miss a beat! Even lie in your bed with your eyes closed and list 3 things that you're grateful for right there and then. If you want a more structured practice then you could hop out of bed, find a comfortable seated position, and spend 5-15 minutes meditating on the things you are grateful for.

4) Thank people openly throughout your day. If a stranger is helpful, if your Mum makes you dinner, if you spouse does something thoughtful, make sure you say "thank you". It might seem obvious but we can often overlook the small things others do for us, and making your "thank you" heard will go a long way.

5) Write a gratitude diary. Whether it's an actual written diary or on a Gratitude App writing a gratitude diary is a great way to practice gratitude (I have said "gratitude" way too much in that sentence!). Even if it's just listing one thing per day that you're grateful for, this practice will cultivate a more grateful, happy you.

These are all such simple, easy things to incorporate in your daily life, and I can almost guarantee that even if you begin practicing them you will become a happier and healthier individual.

Do you have any tips for practicing gratitude in your daily life? And since beginning them have you seen any differences in yourself?

Love & light beauties,

L x

Monday, 1 August 2016

Yoga for Anxiety & Stress

It is no secret that diagnosis of anxiety and stress is on the rise. The Anxiety UK website states on their homepage that "Almost one in five people feel anxious a lot or all the time" - shockingly that's 20% of our population... Either our lifestyles are becoming increasingly pressurised, or we are more equipped (and more willing) to diagnose such conditions - my guess would be that it's a mixture of both. Stress, although often not as extreme as anxiety, is something which is widespread in our society. I can almost guarantee that each and every person who reads this will be able to relate to feeling stressed...sadly it's become part of modern day life.

I have suffered with anxiety (and depression - but let's save that for another day!) since the age of 13. That's half of my life. It was at it's worst when I was 13-15 (brought on by being bullied at school) and then again from 18-23 (brought on by being in an emotionally abusive relationship). I have had a series of minor panic attacks (usually on crowded trains - I'm also rather claustrophobic!) and one more serious panic attack (brought on by my fear of bugs...luckily I can see the funny side to this story now!). And I'm not going to go into my personal experiences any deeper today, but what I can say hand-on-heart is that yoga has been a HUGE part of my healing process. I've also been spurred on to write this post as I personally know at least 5 people who suffer from anxiety - 2 of which have sought me out for private yoga lessons, and so this makes me realise there are people out there who seeking some guidance, and who are ready to stand up and give their anxiety the middle finger!

My opinion is that if you suffer from anxiety it's almost always going to bubbling away under the surface (I may be wrong, but this is my experience); however there are coping mechanisms you can learn and lifestyle changes you can make to enable you to function more "normally" (I use this in the lightest terms: what is normal anyway?!).

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured" ~ B. K. S. Iyengar. So, without further ado, here are my top yoga asanas (postures) and techniques for helping you to manage your anxiety and stress - I highly advise these are learned under instruction of a qualified yoga teacher.


Balasana - Child's Pose

Jarjar fancied joining in too! Except she was ready for Savasana before we'd even started...!

Why Child's Pose?:
  • Almost anyone can do it!
  • It's a calming pose, one which helps to make you feel grounded 
  • You can focus on your connections to the mat, and on the breath, to help calm anxiety and stress.
  • If you feel discomfort between the knees and/or heels place a blanket or block between them. The forehead can also be supported by a cushion or block
  • Feet together with tops of your feet resting on the mat, opening the knees as wide as feels comfortable to you, rest your bottom as close to your heels as you can. Stretch the arms away from you & gently press the palms of the hands into the mat
  • Deepen and slow your breaths - inhale to the count of 4, exhale to the count of 4
  • Stay for a minimum of 10 breaths.
Ado Mukha Svanasana - Downward Facing Dog

Why Downward Facing Dog?:
  • It's a great pose for waking up the nervous system - and although this might seem counterproductive (why would we want to wake up the nervous system when we feel anxious?), our anxiety can be brought on when the nervous system has weakened or confused it's "fight or flight" response, and so by "training it" in a positive pose such as DFD we are encouraging it to be stimulated in a healthy way
  • It builds strength and softness - something anyone dealing with stress and anxiety needs to build. You ARE strong enough to cope with what your facing, and you ARE soft enough to grant yourself grace when struggles come up. 
  • Prepare a strong base. Hands planted shoulder-distance apart, fingers spreading wide, pressing firmly through every part of your hand, with the elbow creases turning in to face one another. Your feet should be hip-distance apart
  • The important thing in this position is to have straightness in your back - NOT getting your feet flat to the mat! A bend in the knees can help to encourage a straighter spine if your hamstrings don't feel very open 
  • Soften your shoulders away from the ears 
  • Stay for a minimum of 5 breaths, a maximum of 15.
Vrksasana - Tree Pose

Why Tree Pose?:
  • It requires focus! And when we focus on something such as balancing it is much easier to calm any symptoms of anxiety and/or stress
  • You can challenge yourself by squinting or closing your eyes, and by adding that element of the unknown we become accustomed to putting ourselves in situations where we feel challenged. And we quickly learn that even if we fall, we can bounce back and try again. 
  • Strong foundation - spread the toes on your standing leg wide, making a wide base. Press through the foot into the floor & engage the muscles in your legs. 
  • Rest the other foot on your ankle, calf, or inner thigh - avoid the knee joint!!! (Unnecessary pressure on the knee joint is highly unadvisable). 
  • Relax your shoulders!
  • Hold for as many breaths as you can balance for!
Virabhadrasana 2 - Warrior 2

Why Warrior 2?:
  • It's a pose which requires us to embody strength. Virabhadra was one of Lord Shiva's strong and fearsome warriors - he could take on anything! And this is what we embody and embrace when we come to this asana. 
  • Ideally the thigh will be parallel to the mat (so deeper than in my photo), and the knee will be directly above the ankle. An easier version with the knee behind the line of the ankle - as in the above photo - is acceptable, as this is still safe. But you must NEVER bend the knee over the line of the ankle else you will put pressure on your knee joint
  • Imagine your arms are being pulled in opposite directions, but keep your shoulders relaxed!
  • Keep your body in the mid-line - i.e. not leaning forward, not leaning backwards
  • Engage the muscles on your back leg
  • Keep your gaze over your front middle finger
  • Hold for 5-15 breaths. 


Why Inversions?
  • It can be scary going up-side-down! And whenever we face something that scares us this helps to equip us with tools we can use when we come across a situation off the mat which brings up fear, anxiety or stress
  • Inversions are when the feet are above your heart. This helps to slow the heart rate and to regulate it. Something which may help in reducing your anxiety or stress, as it's common in these situations for heart rate to increase.
  • Please only practice shoulder stand and headstand (centre photo and far right photo) under guidance of a qualified yoga instructor unless you are advanced in your practice. The pose in the far left photo can be practiced by almost anyone
  • Avoid inversions if: you have low blood pressure or you are pregnant. Some people prefer to avoid shoulder stand and headstand if they are on the first three days of their cycle. (This list is not conclusive)
  • Hold for 10 breaths minimum. Your maximum will depend on your level and experience of practice - again, please seek guidance of a qualified yoga instructor. 
Savasana - Corpse Pose

Why Savasana?:
  • It's everyone's favourite pose!
  • Savasana requires us to surrender. To be present. To consciously rest. It is the perfect opportunity to relax and to give yourself space. 
  • Make sure you're comfortable! The traditional way to do Savasana is with legs extended, feet mat distance apart, toes falling to the sides. But if you have any pain in the lower back you can either wrap up another yoga mat and rest it underneath your knees, or you can bend your knees, plant them mat distance apart and then let them fall together to touch. Blankets are also a great way to ensure maximum comfort!
  • Focus on your breath. Focus on how your belly gently rises and falls. Focus on the feeling of the breath running in and out of your nose. Even repeat to yourself "I am aware of the inhale. I am aware of the exhale". By focusing on the breath, you will help your mind to stay present
  • Stay for a minimum of 5 minutes. No maximum length! 

Why Meditation?:
  • Meditation and mindfulness are often prescribed for people struggling with anxiety and stress. There are differences between the two (which I won't go into now), but in yoga we practice meditation
  • You are forced to focus on your mind. To turn inwardly. And often to people with anxiety this is a scary prospect. However this is why it must be done. As with inversions we must do things which scare us to be able to move past them. And sometimes we must let things come up - emotions and thoughts - to be able to deal with them properly. Mediation forces us to sit and face them, rather than just bumbling along trying to ignore them. Once we let something surface we can then let it go.
  • Sit comfortably! You can use blocks or bolsters to make your seated position more comfortable, or even rest against a wall. Just try to ensure your spine is straight
  • Eyes closed to block out any visual distractions
  • Visualise your shoulders, face and arms relaxing. Try to let go of any tension in these areas of the body
  • Focus the mind on something. It can be anything. Breath. A place. A person. A memory. But choose just one thing and focus on it
  • Start with short bursts - 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. And gradually over time you will be able to sit for longer. Set an alarm on your phone so you know when your time is up (else you'll just be sat wondering how long you've been there for and will be tempted to open your eyes to check). 
Nadi Shodhana - Channel Cleansing Breath

What on earth is my human doing now?!

Why Nadi Shodhana?:
  • It requires full attention on the breath, and as mentioned previously when we must focus on something fully, we are much less likely to be consumed by our anxiety and/or stress
  • Breath control is a well-known, solid technique for helping to deal with panic attacks and stressful situations (we all know the phrase: "Take a deep breath...")
  • Assume a seated position as outlined in the meditation section
  • Rest your right peace fingers on the bridge of your nose. As the breath commences you will use the thumb to plug the right nostril and the fourth finger to plug the left (when I say "plug" I mean to lightly block the entrance of your nostril - not to forcefully press the nasal passage in)
  • Close your eyes
  • Begin by closing the right nostril, leaving the left one open. Deepen the breath to a steady count - start with counting to 4 on the inhale and 4 on the exhale - 1 x inhale + 1 x exhale = 1 round. Repeat between 6-12 rounds. Repeat by closing the left nostril, leaving the right one open
  • Progress to alternate nostril breathing: inhale through the left nostril, exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril, exhale through the left nostril - this = 1 round. Repeat 12 rounds
  • I highly advise this is done under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.  
My parting message to anyone living with anxiety and/or stress is that you are not alone and it is nothing to be ashamed of. We need to create open channels of conversation around mental illnesses so that we can help to alleviate the stigma. And if you are in the midst of what seems like a never-ending cycle of anxiety and/or stress please know that there is light. This will not define you. You ARE strong enough to cope with it. 

If you are interested to find out more about any of the asanas, mediation or breathing techniques then please get in touch. And if you are local to Ascot then please know you are welcome to any of my classes (all levels welcome!), you can find out more about my schedule here. Or even enquire about private sessions if you're not sure a group class is for you. 

Love & light, 

Lucy x