Welcome to the Yogaloft blog.
Yogaloft teachers are all committed yoga practitioners themselves.
Many have had the opportunity to learn with some of the most experienced and inspirational teachers in the UK and also worldwide. In addition to dedicating themselves to mastering yoga asanas and pranayama, many have also applied themselves to the other 6 limbs of yoga, have studied yoga philosophy, the sutras, and a wide and interesting range of other complimentary subjects.
With such a wealth of knowledge in our community, we wanted to find a way to share some of the learning, experiences, theories and ideas with you. We hope you’ll enjoy the articles posted here.
Seasonal stress and Lower Back Pain
By Christa Powell, Osteopath
(Posted November 2017)
Most people know that lower back pain is pretty common; in fact, it is estimated that 80% of adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. If, however, its it’s the first time it happens to you, chances are it feels extremely uncommon, worrying and can severely interfere with your life. Carrying children, sitting at work, sleeping or even simply putting on your shoes can suddently feel like an impossible task.
Low back pain is a complex subject and is usually caused by a combination of factors. Joints can become stiff, ligaments lax, muscles and tendons weak. Most of us move in a habitual way every day, whether we exercise regularly or not, and compensations from poor movement patterns often translate to the low back because of its position in the middle of the body.
Sometimes we sit for too long, straining the ligaments at the back and putting pressure on our disks. Perhaps we push ourselves too far in class and strain a muscle. Impinged or inflamed nerves and arthritis are other common causes. Oftentimes these issues can exist without symptoms for a long time, only to become symptomatic when we experience an increase in stress, or perhaps something emotional like the loss of someone we care about (or add something about christmas stress??). Our body is more reactive to our wellbeing than we sometimes realize.
What can be done?
Whatever it is that causes the pain you need help from a professional who will work with you to figure out which factor is driving your pain and help you to avoid the problem becoming chronic. An osteopath will use manual therapy techniques such as joint manipulations, myofascial release and medical acupuncture to reduce muscle spasms and restrictions, helping to ease the pain. You will learn exercises and will discuss lifestyle changes that will help to propel you towards recovery.
Christa sees patients at the Yogaloft Osteopathy Clinic on weekday afternoons.
We are living in a ‘golden age’ when it comes to understanding the connection between the mind and body. Over the past 30 years, there has been a wellspring of scientific interest in ‘stress’ and the complex effect it has on the body.
We are waking up to factors beyond food and exercise as determinants of good health. We are delving deeper and are actively encouraged – unlike the post-war generation – to consider the impact relationships, finances, time management and our environment are having on how we feel physically.
But what if we could find a way that didn’t rely on outer change, or avoiding the stresses of daily life, to manage increased anxiety, uncertainty and the effect of the socio-political landscape? That would be revolutionary, wouldn’t it?
Well, not if we look to the East, where traditionally the mind and body have been seen as one. Training the mind and managing emotions as a path to wellbeing has been documented in texts by eastern scholars and mystics for thousands of years.
However, in the West, it seems that it has been the evolution of science that has contributed to the step change in acknowledging the power of the mind both on, and in, the body.
HIPPOCRATES: ‘THE NATURAL HEALING FORCE WITHIN EACH ONE OF US IS THE GREATEST FORCE IN GETTING WELL.’
BRAVE NEW WORLD
Mind-body medicine is now a funded and growing area of research and application, borne out of ample studies that demonstrate a clear link between thoughts, feelings and emotions and the role they play in physical health, even to the extent of potentially reversing the effects of disease and trauma.
Related to this is neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, it refers to the discovery of the brain’s ability to re-organise itself, both physiologically and functionally, throughout a person’s life, and the way it does this is based on the changing environment, behaviour, thoughts and emotions of that person. It replaces the former belief that an adult brain was pretty much set, or hard-wired.
While the idea of neuroplasticity was proposed well over 100 years ago, it’s only recently been possible to ‘see’ inside the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging and confirm its adaptive ability. This could have some far-reaching consequences for the way we live, our health, culture, treatment and education.
The brain’s resilience and ability to adapt means a person can recover from stress and trauma, learn new things and overcome entrenched beliefs and social conditioning. The limits are as yet unknown.
However, it also shows how vulnerable and sensitive we can be, not only to external influences such as relationships and deadlines, but also to our own internal ‘self talk’ and the messages we choose to believe.
Epigenetics, an emerging area of science that studies changes in organisms caused by modifications in the way genes express themselves (rather than by changes to the genetic code itself), has shattered the belief that genes and DNA control our biology and determine health.
Rather, DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including messages that arise from our thoughts and environment. In other words, what we think and feel, our environment and even what we eat can influence how our genetic traits express themselves.
According to Dr Lipton, the health of your body is not dependent on your DNA, but rather lies within the mechanisms of your cell membrane – and those mechanisms are affected by… yes, you guessed it… your thoughts.
You are not controlled by your genetic make-up, says Dr Lipton; instead, your genetic ‘readout’ is primarily determined by your internal environment, which he defines as ‘your thoughts, attitudes and perceptions’.
This has far-reaching implications when looking at the effect stress has on the occurrence (or non-occurrence) of a health condition or illness, and similarly on how we can empower ourselves to manage a condition and heal by re-programming our core beliefs.
The emergence of quantum theory at the turn of the 19th centry defied the belief that a physical material universe (Newton) was at the heart of what could be known in science. Physicists including Max Planck and Thomas Young started to explore the relationship between energy and the structure of matter.
A dramatic shift occurred from thinking the universe and our biology are solely physical and mechanical. With the advent of quantum physics, scientists have acknowledged the invisible, immaterial realm, elevated its status, with some even going as far as to say it’s more important than the material realm. To really understand human biology, we need also to comprehend non-physical factors.
As the pioneering engineer, physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla predicted: ‘The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence. To understand the true nature of the universe, one must think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.’
ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: STUDIES SHOW THAT A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT, SUCH AS A TIDY HOUSE, CAN ACTUALLY BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
FROM THE HEART
This groundbreaking way of looking at the universe extends right into our daily life and the way our bodies function. For example, it has been found there is far more to the heart than its ability to pump life-giving oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood around the body.
Through new imaging technology, the heart has been found to generate the largest electromagnetic field in the body. Incredibly, this field can be measured up to several feet outside of the body and also between two people standing near to each other. Therefore, the energy emitted from the human heart has a direct impact on its surroundings and those in close proximity.
Scientists at California’s HeartMath Institute have been studying this electromagnetic field for two decades and have pioneering evidence the field contains ‘emotional information’.
When we feel compassion, love and understanding, the heart ‘beats out’ a very different message. Indeed, the energy field emitted by the heart communicates extensively with the brain and body. The heart has a system of neurons, with both short- and long-term memory, that send signals to the brain, which in turn affects our emotional experience.
These signals, or ‘intelligence’ as the HeartMath Institute calls it, are intimately involved in how we think, feel and respond to the world. From this, researchers have gone on to demonstrate how positive emotions create physiological benefits in the body, while negative emotions do the opposite.
You can boost your immune system, for example, by conjuring up positive emotions, and you can work with the heart itself to change or manage your response to a stressful experience.
One thing’s for sure, across physics, biology, chemistry and psychology, we’ve entered a new era of not just discovering the magnitude of the mind-body connection, but realising how we can empower ourselves from within to determine our health and wellbeing.
It’s revolutionary, though speak to a monk, yogi or dedicated meditator, and they’ll probably give you a knowing smile.
FIND YOUR BALANCE
PRACTISE HEART BREATHING FOR CALM
The heart-focused breathing method by HeartMath is a technique that focuses on the heart, the area of our being that emanates the most powerful energy field from our bodies (even more powerful than the energy field of the brain). The technique promotes a sense of wellbeing and coming back to one’s centre. Practised regularly, it will calm the nervous system and unify your physical, mental and emotional being.
Place one or both hands over your heart and breathe in deeply – think of yourself breathing in through the heart. Do the same thing as you breathe out. Try to breathe a little more deeply than normal (HeartMath recommends you breathe in for about 5-6 seconds and breathe out for 5-6 seconds. But if this is uncomfortable or not possible, then do it at your own pace).
BE SURE TO PRACTISE
Establish your own natural rhythm. Your breathing should be smooth, unforced and pleasant. Do this for about 5 minutes. As you practise, you will be able to continue for longer. It can be beneficial at the beginning and/or end of the day. You can also do it at any time when you notice you have been triggered into a stress response – there is no more important time for a few minutes of heart-focused breathing.
Divya teaches Yin classes at Yogaloft on Fridays at 6.15pm
BEYOND THE PHYSICAL IN PRACTICE
By Mira Mehta
(Posted May 2017)
As a junior practitioner, what should the approach be to moving beyond a purely physical practice? How do you begin to integrate the philosophy of the subject into your personal practice?
A philosophical approach helps you to deal with the ups and downs of life. While many asanas induce a calm frame of mind, the practice itself is said to result in endurance: the ability to be unshaken by pairs of opposites (dvandvas) like pleasure and pain, success and failure. You can take the example of athletes competing in the Olympics who make winning a gold medal their heart’s desire and are devastated if they come second, sometimes needing psychological counselling. A bit of Yoga practice would help them gain equanimity – balance of mind!
However, Yoga philosophy is a subject in its own right. It gives a perspective on life as a whole, including the large issues of the purpose of existence and suffering. It gives positive answers, stating that there can be an end to suffering through enlightenment and liberation. Yoga students who study the philosophy find that it percolates through into their lives at a deep level, helping them deal with stressful situations in a constructive way and giving them a resource which they can dip into again and again for strength and serenity.
Mira teaches Masterclasses at Yogaloft on Thursdays at 1.45pm
Yoga for Every Body?
By Liz Bolton
(Posted May 2017)
Why have so many people failed to take up the practice of yoga when it offers such incredible benefits with negligible (if any) drawbacks? Is it embarrassment or reluctance to expose how unfit/injured/elderly they are for yoga? Or are they simply out of practice? Then I believe they will find my Every Body sessions at the Yoga Loft are for them, whether male, female, old, young, injured – or simply scared of yoga!
I started practising yoga seriously in my early fifties having ‘dabbled’ with it since my thirties in San Francisco where my experience was not good. I was overweight and, apart from playing tennis, was not that fit. I threw myself into a very vigorous yoga class and ended up with a severely painful back – enough to put me off for a number of years.
Several years after returning to the UK, I rediscovered yoga which, though challenging, I fell in love with and as a result, trained as a teacher. I took up teaching seriously after retiring from my PR business. I still take three to four classes (as a student) both at Yogaloft and elsewhere each week, as well as enjoying the occasional yoga holiday.
Due to my love of practising Iyengar yoga as a student, my classes are very much influenced by this style of yoga. My 75 minute sessions focus on gentle structural alignment of the physical body. Props such as belts, ropes, blocks, bricks, bolsters and chairs are used to achieve asanas correctly as I find the use of props allows elderly, injured, tired or unfit students to enjoy the many benefits yoga offers. Amongst those I have taught there has been one suffering from two ruptured knee ligaments, a student recovering from a recent hip operation, and many with shortened ham strings or other ‘disabilities’. My oldest students are in their mid seventies and some students are either total beginners or suffering weight problems – while some have no problems at all!
For those of who fit into any of the categories above, or anyone simply intimidated by the thought of ‘competing’ with agile, Lycra clad youngsters, please do give my small classes a go. You’ll be surprised at how much enjoyment you’ll feel and how encouraged you will be to move on to more demanding classes in the future.
Liz teaches Yoga for Every Body at Yogaloft every Wednesday at 2.30pm.
As a yoga teacher, the questions that I get asked by my students are often similar. One of the most popular questions is “what/who inspires you to practise yoga?” The answer to that is many, many people not all of them yogis but all of them having something special that I see that makes me want to do more. This list of these people grows every day. I feel so fortunate to have so many incredible teachers who always make me want to jump straight back onto my mat to practise something new or to share with my next class something that I have learned from them. I have also been inspired by people I have not been lucky enough to meet (Michael Jackson) who have ignited little sparks in me that make me want to continue to grow and learn.
The following is not about my teachers or favorite artists, but is about my students. I feel so grateful to have the job that I have. I love seeing new faces in each class and I love seeing regular students change, improve and grow with the dedication they put into their practice. I feel incredibly humbled each time I teach by not only the number of people who come back to my classes regularly each week but also the wide range of amazingly talented individuals I am lucky enough to teach including dancers, gymnasts, basketball players, weight lifters and many other athletes. I have learned so much from my students, many of whom have taught me things about my own asana practice and have shown me things I wasn’t able to do and thought I never would be able to! I have learned from the regular intelligent, and at times challenging, questions I get asked at the end of each class and have also made firm friendships with some truly wonderful people. There is one student in particular who in recent months has inspired me. I would like to share her story.
Her name is Patra and she has been taking my classes for several months. I have seen Patra come from the class before mine straight into mine and also stick around for the one after. She practices with such care and control, but the thing I enjoy seeing the most when watching her in class is her enormous smile. It does not leave her face from the moment she comes in wearing her brightly coloured clothes to when she closes her practice after Savasana. Patra is 75 years old. I had assumed that Patra had always practiced yoga as her boundless energy has brought her not only to my Ashtanga classes several times a week but also to my Handstand workshops where she plays around and inverts like a teenager. So I decided to ask Patra more about herself and her practice and was very surprised by what I learned.
Patra began practicing yoga at the age of 70 after retirement. She felt she needed something to do with herself but was wary of joining a yoga class despite recommendations from her doctor as she felt it would be for young people. Eventually she took herself to a Hatha Yoga class and hasn’t looked back since. Her practice has now grown to a 7 day a week practice involving a mixture of studio classes for which she has a monthly unlimited pass as well as her own self practice. She sometimes takes a day off! She does all styles of yoga. I asked which was her preferred style and she told me she couldn’t decide, it was like asking a mother with 10 children which one she loves the most. After 5 years of regular practice, Patra is well and truly addicted to her yoga and enjoys that each day the practice brings something new and different. Patra’s love of her yoga involves her telling people daily they should take up yoga and what better advertisement for yoga and its benefits could you ask for than the radiant, smiling, enthusiastic Patra. It would be very hard not to want to try the thing that makes this incredible woman so joyful and content. I was curious as to whether Patra, prior to her recent yoga practice, had been some sort of Olympic athlete as this woman is incredibly strong, often taking the most challenging version of a pose that I have offered and more often than not being the only person to do so in a room full of people many of whom are less than half her age. She told me that in her twenties and thirties she practiced martial arts and was a black belt in Kung Fu. She stopped in her early forties and didn’t resume a regular fitness regime until she found her yoga.
As well ad FAQs I also hear frequently-made excuses as to why people can’t do yoga. Amongst the most common is “I’m not flexible enough”, but a close contender for top slot here is “I’m too old for yoga.” I have always told people that they are never to old to try yoga. There is such a wide range of styles that taking up a regular yoga practice doesn’t mean you have to be upside down or in a sauna to be doing yoga. Patra is proof and a living inspiration to me and I hope many others after reading this that yoga is for anyone at any age. If you are even thinking that maybe you should give yoga a go, do. If it makes you smile like Patra does even for a fraction of the practice it will have been well worth it.
Sylvia teaches two classes at Yogaloft: Wednesday morning Vinyasa flowfrom 11.05-12.35, and Thursday lunchtime Ashtanga from 12.45-1.45.
The Healing Powers of Yoga and Ayurveda
By Harshini Wikramanayake, Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, MSc, BSc (Ayurvedic Medicine), MBA & HBA
(posted October 2013)
On the last day of the last month last year I broke a bone for the first time in my life. It was a real shock to my system and real life learning for my yoga practice…
As I had not broken any bones growing up, I assumed it would not happen to me. At this stage in my life, bone health issues were more about ensuring I did not have oestiopenia. However, on December 31, 2012, as I was preparing to celebrate New Year’s eve, I broke my right fibula. I was on holiday in Sri Lanka – at my best friend’s beach house in a breathtakingly beautiful spot. We had arrived the night before and I’d had a super sleep and woke up early as I need to get my daughter some medication. Still half-asleep, I started down a fairly steep and dewy slope toward the kitchen. As if part of a dream, my feet slipped from under me and next thing I was on the wet grass with a severe pain in my right ankle. I knew it was not good but I thought it was just a bad sprain. I regained a bit of composure and hobbled to the kitchen to pick up the medication and then back to our room. For the rest of the day, I kept ice packs on my ankle and assumed that the swelling would subside – and my holiday would resume.
A visit to the village Ayurvedic bone specialist:
Well, the next day the swelling was worse and it was very painful. As a life-long migraine sufferer, I have a high pain threshold and thought that it could not be broken. So I kept icing and avoid putting weight on that foot. Being on holiday, I was not going to spend my day at the local hospital having an x-ray; instead, I went to the local Ayurvedic doctor – whom I was told was excellent and had learnt her trade from her father. We caught a tuk tuk and located the doctor in a small village in the middle of the jungle. The doctor massaged my leg with a special bone oil, applied warm heat to it in the form of a “bolus” filled with herbs and then applied a thick herbal paste and bandaged my leg and ankle (this treatment is call Pindswed in Ayurvedic medicine). I was instructed to return the next day.
A childhood friend who arrived at the beach house that day happened to be an orthopaedic surgeon practicing in Manhattan. He palpated my leg and suggested that I have an x-ray when we returned to Colombo. He did not say it but I could tell he thought it was broken. I could not face the local A&E and instead went back to the Ayurvedic doctor, who gave me another treatment and provided me with oil and herbs to continue treating my ankle.
A few days later, we returned to Colombo and went directly to one of the larger hospitals for an x-ray, which confirmed that my fibula was fractured. Luckily, my orthopaedic doctor friend had also returned to Colombo and was able to fit me with a removable “air” cast instead of the plaster cast that the hospital would have fitted, which would have severely delayed my return to London. The other benefit of my air cast was that I was able to continue massaging my leg with the special oil and applying my warm herb boluses.
Returning to London and the healing process:
In London, I was fortunate to see a leading foot and ankle specialist. He was impressed with how the Ayurvedic treatments had significantly reduced the inflammation and as a result retained a substantial degree of rotation in the joint – and his recommendation was not to perform surgery. Given the mobility, he also recommended that I started physiotherapy the following week, which I did in addition to my yoga practice.
For the following three months, I continued with daily Ayurvedic oil and herbal ankle treatments and also orally took Ayurvedic herbs and slowly and carefully re-established my yoga practice with the help of my senior Iyengar yoga teachers. It is amazing what one can do with a cast: head stand, hand stand, standing postures, back bends… The challenge was to understand how much I could do and when to push and when to rest. The cast was an extra weight that my body had to adjust to and I had to be careful not to overdo and inadvertently strain another part of my body.
I had resumed my teaching one week after returning to London. At times I felt like an “old ballet dame” with my walking stick and my classes were full of jokes about my broken leg and stick.
Nine months following my fracture, I spent the month of October in Puna, India at the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute studying with the Iyengar family. I was able to withstand the rigor of the advanced classes although at times there was still pain and stiffness in my leg and ankle – especially after a two hour class with Geetaji that focused on the “hinges of the foot” (the lower leg and ankle).
Harshini has been practising Iyengar yoga for over fifteen years and has been teaching since 2006. To learn more about Harshini visit her website: www.saneepa.com
Harshini teaches two classes at Yogaloft: Friday morning open class from 9.30-11 and Friday lunchtime beginners class from 12.45-2.