Posts by Sophie Legrand:
Food For Good Thoughts
- Sugar and refined sugar products
- Fizzy drinks
- White flour starches and wheat
- Refined vegetable or nut oils
- Any diet foods and drinks
- Any products that contain aspartame
- All protein foods
- Olive oil
- Full cream milk
- Whole-fat yogurt
Take Your Mat Out: Outdoors Yoga
Practising yoga outdoors is a real treat, and now that the good season is finally coming, it’s time to think of that spot in your friends’ garden, at the park or on the beach, that will make a great setting for a more natural practice.
Here are a few tips:
- Try to choose a place in the shade and orient your mat ensuring that the sun will not be blinding you each time you go through your salutations!
- If shade is not available find a good sunscreen and sunglasses that won’t fall off your nose when you are in downward dog.
- Have some fresh water handy.
On the grass:
- Make sure the ground is even and get rid of twigs and stones.
- Use a thick mat, or two thin ones, or lay a big thick blanket on the ground
- If mosquitoes and flies are buzzing around, invest in a insect repellent incense or citronella candles.
On the beach:
- If the sand is thin, mats are not ideal, but you can practice on a towel, the main challenge on the beach is the instability of the ground for standing poses.
- It’s a fantastic practice ground for arm balances. You might choose to build your practice around abdominal strengtheners, backbends, seated poses and arm balances such as crow, handstand, side crow, and eka pada koundinyasana.
Finally get plenty of fresh air in your lungs and enjoy the breeze on your skin!
From The Mat to the Mousepad: Yoga and RSI
If you work in an office or simply in front of a computer like most of us these days, chances are you are in a static posture for long stretches of time. Not only this, but also this posture might not be the best for you ergonomically.
This, in the long term, can cause injuries in various areas of your body, in your lower back, hips, neck, shoulders, wrists and elbows. Last year I was off work for 6 weeks because of a painful case of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). It took a very long time to recover from it, and a lot of the injuries are still with me.
RSI can be crippling in your everyday life. I got to a point last year where I could barely cook, cutting a tomato was excruciating, I couldn’t stir a sauce, because when you suffer from RSI any repetitive movement becomes sends a burning pain in your tendons and muscles, even brushing your teeth can hurt.
Yoga is wonderful to prevent and recover from RSI. So, on top of your usual practice, you can do a few stretches at work but also a few breathing exercises. Tension when working aggravates RSI, and pranayama could be a good tool as well.
Here are a few suggestions:
– change posture as often as you can, move on your chair.
– check your ergonomics at work (see diagram)
– take small breaks away from your keyboard and screen. Walk around the office, get a glass of water, go to your colleague’s office to discuss an issue instead of sending them an email.
– stretch: your neck (30 seconds each side), do a few shoulder shrugs, stretch your wrists and forearms in front of you, or interlace your fingers and stretch your arms up, stretch your back by doing a seated forward fold, knees bent on your chair, your upper back by interlacing your fingers and stretching your arms in front of you, do a few twists on your chair to realign your spine. There are a lot of suggestions on the internet as well as small videos on youtube, that you can watch in your breaks. The key is, as you do on your mat, to hold your mini-asanas for at least 5 breaths in order for your muscles to stretch properly.
– breathe: if you feel tensed, stressed, take a few minutes to come back to your breathing. Why not try Viloma pranayama? Inhale for count of 3, pause, exhale for a count of 3, pause, and again, inhale for 3, etc. It is a very good exercise to quieten the mind and it will help you focus again.
– have a yoga class at work: more and more companies now bring yoga to their employees. One of my fellow teacher trainees, has actually started teaching his colleagues. Why not suggest a similar initiative to your HR department?
Cynthia’s Handmade Cards and Yoga Bags
Teacher training is a great way to meet inspiring, talented, creative and like-minded people. Cynthia, one of our fellow yoga trainees, always comes to class with the most original creations. She knits quirky hats, gloves, scarves, but also yoga mat bags. They are quite a hit amongst our group and a lot of the girls have now their personalised one, assorted to the colour of their mat.
Cynthia also personalised her yoga diary, by carving her own yoga inspired stamps, and I always peek at it jealously when we are making our notes on asanas. She has now created a few different sets of cards using her designs, and they are really lovely.
So I would suggest a browse at Cynthia’s blog, where she posts some very appetising vegan recipes, and writes about yoga and self-sufficiency and also have a look at her shop where you will find her cards.[Source: http://muddyspoon.blogspot.com]
Browse With Moderation
In our teacher training last week, we discussed Brahmacharya. This fifth yama invites us to moderation and to not squander our energy, and hence to exercise our will-power. A lot of us in the class realised how in our modern age, a great deal of our energy leaked through the infinite, colourful, ephemeral and ever so stimulating internet.
I don’t watch TV any more, so nowadays when I’m feeling bored or my energy is low, instead of reaching for the remote, I just open a browser on the laptop, and wander around twitter, facebook or youtube.
A lot of the time, I do learn things, I find inspiring blogs and articles. There is an undeniable educative value to the internet but it can be also a wonderful tool of procrastination. So when do our cyber-musings become a real waste of energy?
To me, it is when I run out of real purposes to connect to the web and I’m anxiously looking for stimulation, something that will distract me from boredom, loneliness, unpleasant tasks, low mood, etc.
How can we exercise our will-power and direct our energies to worthier pursuits?
First, we can monitor our time and use of the internet, and develop awareness to our browsing. Do we need to check my email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. every 10 minutes? Also, we could play with our abilities for delayed gratification and motivate ourselves with an internet break. For example, ‘I’ll watch that video on youtube once I’ve finished this task I really don’t want to do’.
What can we propose ourselves to do instead?
- Lonely: why not call a friend, meet someone for coffee, talk to a co-worker, or just go to a yoga class.
- Bored: maybe think of more creative ways to use our time, like grab a yoga book and read about a posture, a yama, a pranayama, or simply meditate and find out more about the void within.
- Low: why not get the mat out and practice a few twists and backbends, or cook a tasty nutritious meal for your partner, family, friends or just yourself!
- Procrastinating: we all know that the earlier we get over unpleasant but unavoidable stuff to do, the better we feel. So just do it and reward yourself after, not before.
Being mindful of how we spend our time and energy is a way of taking care of ourselves. When we waste our time surfing, there is this latent feeling of letting ourselves down. By entertaining the inner child within in a more productive way, we also connect with our more nurturing self.
Be Thin-Skinned When It Comes to Organic
You might sometimes become a bit confused when shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. I know I can be. Do I need to buy everything organic? Can I really afford it? What is the safest choice?
Furthermore, the organic option is not always available. There are a few things that I always buy organic: carrots, celery, apples and garlic. The main reason is that I eat those practically every day in one form or the other: raw, cooked, peeled, unpeeled. Also good garlic is hard to find, and the slightly better one is organic. Generally the garlic sold in shops comes from China and is old and malodourous.
The Environmental Working Group has drawn a very useful list, which identifies the fruit and vegetables most exposed to pesticides in traditional farming, also sometimes known as the Dirty Dozen. On the other side of the spectrum you will find the clean dozen, the least likely contaminated.
This is a good indicator of which fruits and vegetables to buy organic and which traditionally farmed products are safer to buy as such.
THE DIRTY DOZEN
- Sweet Bell Peppers
THE CLEAN DOZEN
- Sweet Corn (Frozen)
- Sweet Peas (Frozen)
One simple rule you could apply, and it’s quite common sense, is thick skin versus thin skin. The thinner the skin of fruits and vegetables the more vulnerable they are to pesticides. It’s not as clear-cut as this when you look at the full list, but it is definitely a factor that can help you in your choices.
Moreover, apples, carrots, and celery do taste so much better when they are organic!
Jail Crow: Yoga for Inmates
You might have recently read the thought-provoking article on Elephant Journal, Do Prisoners Deserve Yoga?, featuring striking pictures of inmates practising yoga in jail by Robert Sturman. There is something incredibly fascinating in seeing those heavily tattooed men perform yoga poses gracefully, with this sense of restored dignity.
If you did read it and you’re teaching yoga, you might have also asked yourself if you would be prepared to embark on this kind of project. Before reading the article, I had wondered if yoga was taught in prisons and how deeply it affected this different breed of yogis; the ones to whom freedom has a whole different meaning.
Michael Stone – who I’m quoting abundantly lately, as I feel he gave us food for thought for the year ahead – envisages what prisons would be like if run like monasteries. Inmates would learn how to meditate and grow their own food. Meditation, he suggested, would help solving one of the major issues in jails: noise.
In the US, an initiative called the Prison Yoga Project, created 8 years ago, brings yoga and meditation to prisons and rehabilitation facilities. Also, the Prison Yoga Project organises a teacher training – in Austin, New York and San Francisco – aimed at working with incarcerated communities.
The testimonial page could at first sight read like any other endorsements to the benefits of yoga. These inmate letters, however, are written with an eloquence and filled with a poignant humanity that our conditioned minds wouldn’t easily associate with the prison environment. They describe the journeys of transformation and the confidence in a better life to come in unique voices:
‘With the barrage of negativity in prisons, they are unyielding breeding grounds for intense suffering, chaos, noise, overcrowding, violence, ineffective medical care and poor food. But occasionally, every so often, friendship, kindness, compassion and programs of meaningful substance come along. The Yoga program is a life-sustaining and meaningful one that I nurture and value because it is not only positive, it supports my growth and success as a young man. Yoga helps me navigate my life as a good and successful person. This practice is life-changing and will continue to enhance my life.’ – K.L.
”For those of us sentenced to a life term, time is inexorable. We are challenged to draw vitality and meaning from our circumstances. Yoga has helped me to understand that it is in quietness and stillness that time becomes an ally not a foe. It is in stillness that I realize the things that are important and those things that really do not matter.” – S.L.
Closer to home, the charity Freeing the Human Spirit based in Toronto is an organisation who teaches yoga to inmates as well as prison staff in Ontario, and also trains teachers willing to volunteer.
If you too are interested in taking part, you might want to contact Yoga Outreach in Vancouver, as they have several programs for teaching in correctional facilities and addiction centres.
Also, if you want to see more of the wonderful photographs by Robert Sturman, do visit his Facebook page and have a look at his various series on yogis behind bars:
All I Know About Yoga
is that I know nothing, to paraphrase Socrates, a man in the know.
When it comes to our relationship to asanas, one may realise that a lot of it has to do with:
- what we know
- what we think we know
- what we think we should know
- what we would like to know
- what we don’t know that we know
When I started yoga at my local gym in London a few years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing at all, and had close-to-zero body awareness. Most of the classes were multi-level, which gave me that daunting notion that everyone else knew what they were doing. On low days, I felt like a total body idiot. I wanted to know what they knew and make my stupid body do what they did.
So I stubbornly went back to class until I started to know enough to start to get profoundly fascinated and transformed by what my stupid body had to teach me.
Michael Stone in his workshop mentioned that yoga attracts perfectionists, the ‘never enough’ crowd which I belong to. I googled the word and found this definition: ‘perfectionists derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labours of painstaking effort.’ Sounds familiar?
Perfectionists love an all engrossing activity that offers an infinite array of refinements. There is also something quite obsessive-compulsive about yoga: the very repetitive and ritualised nature of it. You go to several classes a week and listen to the same cues for years, but somehow each time you hear them, they sound new, and you apply yourself to them as diligently as you can.
Now that I’m doing my teacher training, I’m learning those cues in the hope that one day, I’ll repeat them to other people and share what I know, what I’ve learnt painstakingly, with much effort.
Cues can be quite deceitful, though. Our mind and body memorise them and hardly question their purposes. Do you know why you do all of the things you do in an asana? We can hear and perform a cue hundreds of times sometimes without asking ourselves why.
When their meanings are suddenly unravelled, it can be a real epiphany – at least for me, I’m easily awestruck – another piece falls into place in the puzzle of an asana or a family of asanas.
I was marvelled by an interview of B.K.S. Iyengar in the movie Enlighten Up – which I would only recommend for its bonus features -, where he was explaining that he recently had a revelation about the alignment of the ribcage in headstands. His face was lit by pure glee as he admitted this. I just thought ‘wow, he’s still learning and seem to find so much joy from it’. This gives a lot of hope to yoga perfectionists everywhere.
Before we started our practice with Michael Stone, he invited us to forget all we knew about yoga. It felt incredibly liberating and brought everyone to the same level, as it should.
We should apply this Socratic principle to our practice and step on our mats with a virgin mind because this is how we’ll pay better attention to what our body knows. We will continue learning and get to know all those levels of refinement that give perfectionists so much pleasure, and above all joy.
Under The Same Sky
Since I’ve started my teacher training at Semperviva in January, I have been spending a lot of time at the Sky Studio. I had practised there before with Susan, one of my favourite teachers, and although it is smaller than the other studios, I like it for several reasons.
The main one being is that I truly miss practising outdoors. I was very lucky last year to have a lot of time off before coming here and to travel in Europe for two months in the summer. We hugged the Atlantic coast and while my boyfriend was surfing, I would find a quiet spot and go through my sun salutations slowly to the sound of the waves and summer breeze, enjoying every inhale and exhale.
The first time I practised on the beach, I had the most obvious revelation. I inhaled, arms up, my palms reached up the – real – sky and the sunlight dazzled me as I looked up: ‘this is what saluting the sun really is’. You don’t get that sense as literally as this when you are in a studio.
I still love practising indoors, we’re all creatures of habit, we like a flat steady floor, the absence of wind, flies, mosquitoes, or anything that distracts our senses. However to me, practising under the sky is unbeatable and that’s why I like the Sky Studio: it connects me again to this feeling of infinite space.
At the same time, it offers all the comfort that modern yogis rely on: carpeted floors, yoga mats, props and a bathroom! Besides the skylight, there are many windows, covered in light white curtains, which makes the studio bright but not overwhelmingly so. You will find it just above the Greens and Gourmet Restaurant on Broadway and Trafalgar. You just need to cross the restaurant to find the reception.
I always find the atmosphere quite serene, studious and humble, which prepares the mind to go deeper into your practice. This maybe has to do with the nature of my studying there, but I feel also the opening to the sky creates that equanimity. It’s the closest to the sky one can be while practising indoors.
You might have read articles about a recent study – conducted by the University of Massachusetts on 16 participants for 8 weeks – which showed how meditation can change the brain and increase grey matter in certain areas linked not only with learning and memory, but also awareness and compassion.
Sometimes, these scientific conclusions offer a good opportunity to challenge the sceptical side of our mind, which resists practices that it associates with new age. However, it can just as easily equate to: ‘meditation actually works, it’s now tangible, it’s all there on the MRI scans’. Hopefully, new evidence like this can incentivise us to develop new habits, and that’s precisely what a lot of meditation relies on: routines.
It is the same with asana practice: the more you do it, the more you will want to do it and, before you’ve realised, it becomes one of your everyday needs. How many times have you craved practising yoga? Personally, I notice it when I find myself standing in tree pose when stirring a sauce in front of my hob. I know I need meditation when the buzzing of my emotions and thoughts takes over my mind.
If it is not in your daily life and you don’t know how to start, it could be slightly intimidating and puzzling. What does one really do when meditating? So, why not book a class or a short retreat, or drop by your local Buddhist center to learn Metta – the loving-kindness meditation – or mindfulness meditation, for example. Also, maybe look out for meditation workshops at your favourite yoga studios.
There’s a book I find quite helpful and simple to use, in the same series as The Yoga Bible by Christina Brown, and it’s called The Meditation Bible by Madonna Gauding. The first sentence reads as an invitation: ‘If you are new to meditation, you will feel comfortable here. And if you are an experienced meditator, you may find renewed inspiration.’
The first part of the book is a guide to meditation, the ‘what, why and how’ of it, then the author leads us through 140 different meditations, from all sorts of traditions. They are categorised, which can help for days when you have a specific focus in mind: ‘calming and centring’, ‘get moving’, ‘love and compassion’, ‘problem-solving’, etc. Some might sound a bit esoteric, but 140 is plenty to choose from!
Finally, I’ll leave you with Bob Weisenberg‘s fantastic effort of compiling the Bhagavad Gita around different themes, issues and questions. This week on Elephant, he gathers the Gita’s best quotes on The Yoga of Meditation.
Be A (Yoga) Buddy
Last week in We’re All In This Together, I was writing about Michael Stone’s workshop and how he strongly believed in the crucial role of communities.
It really changes your experience to have a yoga buddy. It’s nice to go to class and see at least one familiar face, to share your practice and to talk about it afterwards.
It can be a lovely relationship, full of kind gestures like saving a mat, and preparing some props, but also it can mean sending a quick text if one of you doesn’t come to class as usual. A yoga buddy can be the one who gets you out of bed if you have the winter blues: and that’s priceless.
Also, there are lots of things you tell your yoga buddy that you might not share with other important people in your life as yoga is such a safe environment for many of us.
Getting to know your fellow yogis seems to be easier said than done for a newcomer, and as yogis, we prefer our carrots and our relationships to be organic. Often the most difficult step is the first one. So here are a few suggestions to start engaging with fellow yogis:
- drink water and tea: the water cooler and the tea room are the bars of yoga. They are an easy opportunity for socialising.
- changing room: not all changing rooms lend themselves to conversations but some are quite friendly.
- friendly accessories: I’ve got a few pair of cute socks from Europe and I get a lot of nice remarks on them. So socks can be an ice breaker!
- props: ask your neighbour if they need bring an extra prop.
- partner yoga: why not choose practices that involve more partner work such as acroyoga.
- teacher training, workshops, retreats: spending time with a group of yogis will definitely create affinities.
- blogs: read other yogis’ blogs or connect with them on social networks, you can end up meeting in real life!
- smile: it’s always a good thing!
We’re All In This Together
Michael Stone came to Semperviva last weekend and brought with him a whirlwind of very inspiring thoughts. For all of us who attended the workshop, he wanted to plant seeds of change.
On Friday evening, he presented his latest title Yoga For A World Out Of Balance, which I haven’t read yet, but will review as soon as I do. Also, once I’ve read it I might be in a better position to make sense of all the wisdom he has so generously imparted this weekend, those who were there know what I’m talking about!
I’ve been to my share of book signings in my professional life, but this was the first one that started with a seated meditation, instead of a traditional glass of sparkling wine.
Afterwards, we were all relaxed and ready to be utterly captivated, and so Michael Stone discussed a vast array of ideas for a better world that really resonated with his audience.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes sit in front of the computer, a documentary, a book, or a newspaper and anger and sadness rise. All these tales of greed, injustice, corruption, cruelty and pollution come into our daily lives and we sometimes can’t help feeling powerless.
We could turn off the media and ignore this constant flow of bad news, but as Michael Stone pointed out this would be a rather nihilistic approach. Instead as yogis, we should draw our attention to them and convert our intentions, our yamas, into actions.
He explained how everything is connected and that karma is causality, so all of our acts matter. So we could put our living-room anger to a good use and help out around us by being more mindful and compassionate and maybe take it a bit further all the time. We could try and broaden our neighbourhood, i.e. our field of action. Michael Stone quoted one of his mentors: ‘choose battles small enough to win but big enough to matter.’
He added that as yogis we are part of a community, even if sometimes, practising in a studio can feel rather anonymous. Belonging to a community can help us grow, maintain good ethics, and maybe help restore a bit of balance in the world.
We can all be a bit shy, but why not befriend with your yoga mates a bit more? We are all in this together, so let’s get to know each other!
Also, I know that after the workshop, some people discussed plans to create communities with the help of Michael Stone, so feel free to post details in the comment section!