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Wed 22 May, 2013

Tackling anxiety: it's high time for a re-think

If, as reported in The Guardian the other day, 1 in 20 people - other estimates say up to 25% - suffer from 'clinical' anxiety, it's high time for new approaches, and to end our pharmaceutical industry-led obsession with dishing out tablets.

 

Breaking the devastating cycle of obsessive worry takes dedication and hard work, tempered with a gentle approach - anxiety and depression are usually deeply embedded in the nervous system, mind and body and won't disappear overnight.

 

But by recognising, gently acknowledging and working with thought patterns ('samskaras') that are causing us suffering, the worry cycle can be broken. The resulting changes in perspective and mood can be life-transforming.

 

Mindfulness meditation-based approaches - such as the 8-week MBCT course - are recognised as a highly effective alternative/complement to anti-depressants; as is yoga.

 

Buddhists and yogis have known this for thousands of years, and it's wonderful to see Western Science now waking up to the fact that there is another way.

 

Exciting times for neuroscience, and for these ancient practices that we're so lucky to have available.

 

For highly recommended reading on this subject, refer to Bo Forbes' Yoga for Emotional Balance and The Mindful Way Through Depression by Professor Mark Williams.

 

Lucia Cockcroft, editor

 

 
Mon 11 February, 2013

Have we forgotten yoga is about being present?

It's February - and, with the snow and Winter's bite, a flurry of new yoga students are taking to the mat whilst New Year Resolutions still pack a little punch.

 

As a yoga teacher, I find teaching complete beginners an immense privilege, and a big responsibility.

 

But it is crucial to remind ourselves that the teaching of yoga is not just about instructing a ‘perfect' Downward Facing Dog. It spreads far wider than this.

 

As Kirsty Norton - aka yogageek - posted on her facebook page recently, ‘Yoga ... is about the attention you put into each moment of your day, whether that is in downward dog, or in a conversation with another'.

 

Yet, in my 15 years' experience as a yoga student, and 5 years as a teacher, I have seen that contemporary yoga teaching is largely resolutely physical, with little time or emphasis given to meditation and the wider ‘spiritual' aspects that separate yoga from pilates, or any other exercise system.

 

I'm not a fan of the word ‘spiritual' - it means many different things, and risks turning people off. In this context, I simply mean the wider aspects of yoga: an ancient discipline whose origins extend back thousands of years.

 

Yoga is body-centred mindfulness

The ancient texts spoke very little of the physical practice and mostly of the role of awareness and perception.

 

Yet the average yoga class makes no reference (explicit or implicit in the teaching) to this original meaning. I am so heartened at the recent explosion of interest in mindfulness meditation: the practice of being present to the moment in an open, non-judgemental way.

 

As I understand it, yoga is mindfulness, centred on the body; it is a present-moment awareness of the body, through movement and the breath.

 

This awareness extends life off the mat; on the most basic level, by taking some of the presence we foster in a yoga class into everyday activities.

 

This is the essence of a practical yoga practice: it's a lifestyle, not something we do mechanically for an hour a week.

 

Off the mat practice

If students aren't open to the mental attention and ‘work' that this requires - as many aren't - then at least the teacher has done his or her bit to impart, to their best ability, what this yoga is all about.

 

This isn't to negate the importance of alignment during a yoga class; nor does it mean that the physical postures have to be practised very slowly, though it helps to stay present and centred by slowing down enough to feel the body move.

 

The best ashtanga classes are very challenging both mentally and physically, due to the slowed-down pace and focus on alignment and awareness.

 

Most people - myself included - initially came to yoga for its promised physical benefits, and there is nothing at all wrong in this. But it's the teacher's responsibility to impart that yoga as a physical practice is only one part of a big, colourful, ancient tapestry.

 

Teachers such as Paul Dallaghan, Judith Lasater, Sarah Powers and Tias Little (to name a few) are rooted in the classical teachings of yoga - and, as an ‘industry', we need to make sure we keep these teachings alive for generations to come.

 

The alternative is that yoga becomes just another one-dimensional, on-the-mat-only exercise system, its heart and soul stripped out - and what a crying shame that would be.

 

Lucia Cockroft, editor

 


This blog post is sponsored by Satvada retreats: nurting yoga and meditation escapes in Morocco and beyond.

 

 

 

 
Wed 23 January, 2013

Supervision for yoga teachers: a new support group

The number of people training to be yoga teachers has grown considerably in recent years - yet there is still a near-total absence of support for these teachers once they begin their careers.

 

I took the Sivananda Teacher Training course five years ago, and, I think, learnt a fair bit whilst I was there. Yet I always viewed this training is a starting point, and hardly felt ready to be cast adrift into the world of teaching after a month's course, however intensive.

 

I remember my first taught class vividly: I was terrified, and the pre-class nerves continued for months, if not years.

 

There is nothing surprising in being nervous as a new teacher. More surprising is the lack of support network once our roles switches from student (though, of course, we are always students) to teacher.

 

In the world of counselling and psychotherapy, it is a requirement for therapists to see a supervisor regularly - for support, and in order to share ideas.

 

While teaching yoga can be one of the most rewarding things to do, it can also be draining, difficult financially, and challenging on an emotional and physical level.

 

Mostly, we work on a freelance basis, and rarely have the opportunity to speak openly with other teachers, sharing advice and/or challenges.

 

Yoga teacher Norman Blair has seen this gap in the market and responded by introducing a London supervision group for yoga teachers. The monthly, two-hour sessions will have a maximum of five, who commit to paying for a block of six sessions.

 

Norman says: 'The aim of this group is to provide support - to enable a growing clarity about how we are teaching and to encourage open discussion about the difficulties (and joys) that we all face as yoga teachers. This is about sharing, and mutual aid'

 

'From participating in this group, I hope you can get advice, practical assistance, asana teaching points, emotional support, aids for teaching and insights about practice and people.'

 


For more details, or to register interest, call Norman on 0207 683 0945 or email at: norman108@clara.co.uk (www.yogawithnorman.co.uk).

 

 

Lucia Cockcroft, editor

 

 
Wed 9 January, 2013

January and the (sacred?) Art of Pausing

This month, I'm trying to take time to pause: no chocolate, no alcohol, a come-what-may meditation practice.

 

Like many people, I find January the most dispiriting of months - and am curious to see what happens when I approach it in a different way.

 

In her wonderful book, Radical Acceptance, clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach has this to say about 'pausing':

 

'A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement, when we are no longer moving toward any goal.... A pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.

 

'We may take a pause from our ongoing responsibilities by sitting down to meditate - letting go of thoughts and awakening our attention to the breath. We may pause by stepping out of daily life to go on a retreat or to spend more time walking in the countryside.

 

'We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we're about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person.....Often the moment when we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so - stopping in a fit of anger, or when we feel overwhelmed by sorrow.

 

'Yet by taking a pause, we resume our activities with increased presence and a greater ability to make choices. Taking our hands off the controls and pausing is an opportunity to clearly see the wants and fears that are driving us.

 

'Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises.'

 

 

Lucia Cockcroft, editor

 
Thu 27 December, 2012

It's January: time for a yoga retreat!

yoga holiday morocco february june essaouiraFor many, January - with its long, dark days and 'back to work' feeling - is the most challenging time of year.

 

So it's no coincidence that this is also the month when holiday plans are made.

 

Going on a yoga retreat is an increasingly popular way of taking a complete mental and physical break from the routine.

 

There's nothing more nourishing than a few days spent in beautiful surroundings, with like-minded people, practising mood-balancing yoga twice daily, eating delicious, healthy food.

 

In my experience of attending, and running, yoga retreats and holidays, these breaks can be especially enriching for people attending alone: meeting people at meal-times is assured, yet there's also plenty of scope for 'alone-time'.

 

It's a perfect balance for those wanting a little company, but who, for whatever reason, are travelling solo.


A few yoga retreats we recommend:

There are hundreds of retreats and yoga holidays out there; here are a few we heartily recommend:


Sally Parkes Yoga Retreats in the UK
Including: 11th - 13th January. UK. Relax & Restore New Year Retreat. Yoga, Pilates and Meditation. Weekend retreat at Florence House, Seaford, East Sussex. 

 

 

Simon Low Yoga Holidays in the UK and abroad:
www.simonlow.com/home/holidays.php
Including: January 20 - 26, 2013: Jungle Yoga, Khao Sok Lake, Thailand

 

 

Yoga-Abode's sister company, Satvada retreats, in the UK, Morocco and South-West France
www.satvada-retreats.co.uk
Including: February 21 -26, 2013: Yoga & Activity Escape, Essaouira, Morocco (image shown above)

 

 

Highly experienced yoga teacher Fiona Agombar is well known for her work with yoga and ME.

www.fionaagombar.co.uk

Including: Fiona's retreats will include a new-format 'How To Be Happy with Yoga' weekend in Surrey, February 18-22. 

 

 

Catherina Annis (Scaravelli) - Relax & Release
Including: Yoga retreat, Kailasam, Kerala, India, 3-16th February 2013

 

 

Kirsty Norton  Yoga Retreats
Including: Yogi Weekend on an Eco Farm, Sussex - 15-18 February, 2013

 


Questions to ask
Before deciding on which break will suit you, we recommend asking yourself and the retreat provider a few questions first.

 

Do you want a small or large group retreat? Sometimes, numbers are capped at 10/12; sometimes the group is far larter.

 

Do you want an alcohol-free break? Will the food be vegetarian? What's the standard of accommodation,and will you be sharing with one (or more) other?

 

What level is the yoga suitable for, how long are the daily classes, and what 'style' of yoga will it be? 

 

And, of course, cost! Do you have an upper budget? Is there an early booking discount? If you're travelling solo, what is the single supplement?

 

For a short guide to what to expect, click here and to browse Yoga Abode's directory of yoga retreats, click here

 

Whether you'll be going on a yoga retreat/holiday or not this year, the YA team would like to with you a truly happy, healthy 2013.

 

Lucia Cockcroft, editor

 

 
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