A date with yourself

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I have been falling in love. Falling in love with the idea of a date with yourself. Let me explain why.

A date with yourself is a moment where you will focus solely on your own needs, you take the time to listen, you are understanding and nurturing.

When I started thinking about this, I realized that I hardly ever do this for myself. How often do you take the time to listen to what you need? How often do you allow yourself the time to deal with everything that has come your way? How often do you make time to dig inside and figure out bigger questions in life?

In the world we live in, things are thrown at us constantly, via the internet, television, our phones, our surrounding, by the need to constantly be connected.

Connected to the cloud and other people, but not to ourselves.

Nowadays when you look around, anywhere really – restaurants, bars, bus stops, yoga schools, stores, in the street, etc. – whenever someone is alone they immediately grab their phones.

  • Your phone is there to connect to others, so you don’t feel alone.
  • Your phone is there to entertain you, so you don’t get bored.
  • Your phone is there to protect you, so you don’t have to interact with strangers.
  • Your phone is there, so you ARE distracted.

As a yoga teacher, I repeatedly remind my students of connecting to the breath, connecting to what happens in the body. These reminders bring you in the moment, it helps you to be where you are without too many distractions. So in a way, yoga is a date with yourself. It is a set time to take care of your mind, your body and your spirit.

To me yoga is the perfect tool to get out of my mind and into my body. It is a perfect way to ground myself and see where I am at. I guess that everyone who practices yoga also has the experience that the mind doesn’t silence, but keeps on throwing things at you. Often useless stuff. So I started experimenting with bringing in themes – things we deal with in daily life – and move with my breath to explore how that makes me feel and what comes up.

A practice that has helped me understand myself better, I am able to make sense out of the things I deal with in daily life. Is it easy? No! Am I confused about what comes up? Most certainly! But I have also noticed that I can connect to how it makes me feel and I have learned to accept whatever feeling comes up. Happy, angry, frustrating – it is all there.

If you want to practice this on your own, work with a concept of something you work through.

  • Start your practice in a seated meditation and speak your theme out loud.
  • Take at least a minute to sit with it. Arrive on your mat, arrive with your breath, arrive in your body.
  • Start your practice and keep reminding yourself about the theme.
  • Explore how it makes you feel. And what makes you feel that way.
  • Don’t judge yourself. Be constructive in your feedback and loving in the communication with yourself.
  • End with a seated meditation and take at least 10 deep breaths in and out.
  • Additional: free write for (minimal)10 mins. Anything that comes up concerning your theme.

The time on your mat, the time you spend getting to know yourself is invaluable. It’s a date with yourself. A date where you want to get to know the other person, you ask questions, you have fun, you don’t judge, you are in the moment, you are engaging, funny, serious and loving. That’s why I have fallen in love with it. Because I am falling in love with me.

The balancing act

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Finding balance in your life, in your mind, in your breath, in your personality, in your being – it seems to be something we all want. To me, it also sometimes seem like an utopia. When I find balance in part, I tend to lose it somewhere else. When I put in the work to balance one part of my being, I lose the time and effort in the other one.

However, I also believe it is possible!

Balance is not something you can find, it is something you create” – Jana Kingsford

In your life you will always go through highs and lows. It is inevitable. We cannot control the outside world, we cannot control the actions of others and therefore we will have periods of suffering throughout our lives. It is however the balance and connection inside the Self that will determine how off balance you get. And to understand when we are in balance we have to learn where that point is.

Don’t avoid extremes, and don’t choose any one extreme. Remain available to both the polarities – that is the art, the secret of balancing” – Rajneesh.

When we are kids we are constantly exploring our boundaries. We are figuring out our world by falling and standing up, by testing the boundaries of our parents and by making mistakes. The older we get the more consolidated and fixed our ideas, thoughts and ways of being seem to be. However, the search for balance inside continues. Over time we change and we constantly try to figure out who we really are. We dig into our past to figure out why certain highs and lows have impacted our lives, so that we can make sense of where we are now. So that we can figure out where our balance is.

In yoga we have a concept that talks about this search for balance, which is called Sthira Suhka Asanam (Yoga Sutra 2.46)

  • Sthira arises from the root stha, which means “to stand, to be firm, to take a stand.” It translates as steadiness, awareness, stable and firm.
  • Sukha arises from the root words su (good) and kha (space), so giving it the meaning “good space.” It translates as comfort, ease, pleasure, lightness.
  • Asana is translated as posture, attitude (mental, emotional, physical), physical exercise and seated posture.

So when we translate that ‘Sthira Suhka Asanam’ means the posture is firm/steady/stable AND comfortable/ light/ at ease.

So in our practice we look to be steady and stable, while light and at ease. We are looking to be rooted and strong, while being joyful, easy and gentle. The breath is our guidance in this process, by following how it changes with each pose we can get a better understanding of the impact a pose has on us. By working on keeping the breath and the posture stable, means you are in complete focus, you are in the moment and because of that the mind is still. The mind is present.

When we learn these qualities on the mat, by focusing on the stability of the mind and the steadiness of our breath, we can take the lessons learned with us off the mat and apply it in our daily life. Being aware of when you are in a high or low, will give you insight in what you need to develop more in your life. It is a first step towards a healthy balance, and we keep on practicing until we are able to keep the balance in all parts of our life, all the time.

Is yoga for everybody?

 

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Back in the day, way way back in the day, yoga was only for a few, and only for men. It was a sacred practice and mostly practiced in complete solitude & isolation.

Times have changed. Yoga is now a common good and belongs to everyone and anyone. Yoga nowadays comes in so many forms and styles that almost everyone will be able to find a style that suits their personal needs.

And even though not every yogi will agree with me that it’s OK to adapt this ‘sacred practice’, I believe that it is amazing that we can bring yoga to everyone. We are in it together! In one way or another.

One of the main reasons why I love to teach BoxingYoga is because I am able to bring yoga into a group for whom stretching is far from the list of priorities, even though all fighters know they have to. Coming to a yoga school is intimidating, because they feel they are too bulky, not flexible enough or are turned off by the ‘wishy washy’ music / talk.

The great thing with all these different styles is that eventually we all work towards the same goals. Ultimate bliss, a connection with the Self and less suffering in our lives. So does it really matter how you get there? Does it matter if you are able to connect with the Self via a sweaty class or one where you are chanting? Does it matter if you start with philosophy or if that might become part of your practice later? As long as we are able to create a steady and stable breath, a calm heartbeat and a quiet mind, we are working towards our own liberation.

Some days I love a strong intense work-out, other days my body is craving something slower, something to restore. Some days I want a straightforward physical class, on other days I’m looking for deeper meaning and philosophy. Our bodies and needs are not the same, every day is different, every time when we step onto the mat is different. As long as we can understand that, all that we need to do, and all that is asked, is to show up, do the work and be honest to yourself about what you can and cannot do.

Enjoy your practice! Because YES, yoga is for you and for everyone!

6 reasons to do early morning yoga

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When I started my journey in yoga, I was not an early bird at all, and definitely wouldn’t go to a gym or yoga class before the work day started. No, I was a night owl, going to parties and sleeping in.

Oh how my life has changed, through yoga! My alarm now goes every day somewhere between 4.45am and 5.45am, so I can teach yoga early in the morning. And while doing that, I noticed how I started loving the morning and how I appreciate this early practice more and more.

So let me share with you why I think an early morning yoga routine is awesome!

  1. Sets the tone for the day

Starting the day off with meditation, stretches, movement and focus on the breath. What do you think will happen? Exactly! It will create a calm and stable state of mind. One that will help you through all that will be thrown in your direction, at work, in your family, in traffic, etc.

Also, starting the day with taking care of yourself will make you more aware of staying healthy. People tend to eat healthier and allow themselves a necessary break.

All of this leads to less stress, a healthier body and a happier live.

  1. Sets a healthy routine

Creating a routine in life is always difficult. Yes, we all have routines that are forced upon us, like going to work everyday. But setting up a routine for yourself and keeping it, is something a lot of people struggle with.

An early morning routine is easier to keep to. You are less likely to be distracted by last-minute diner parties, needs of kids, partners, work and friends. It is an easier time of day to set aside some time for yourself.

And on top of that, it will help you create a steadier sleeping routine. The better you get at waking up around the same time every day, the more energy you will have throughout the day. So building a steady sleeping routine is a great added bonus!

  1. Who needs coffee?

Starting your day with movement, meditation and breathing will create a lot of energy and get your mind and body started in a way that makes coffee not (as) necessary anymore. For lots of people coffee is part of the routine, and if you are looking into breaking that habit or drinking less coffee, yoga might help you on that quest. The energy created in your body through the movement, and the clarity in the mind through breathing can create a similar effect as coffee. So give it a try and see for yourself!

  1. Eat more, less guilt

Who doesn’t want to eat more and not feel guilty about it? I know I do!! Doing sports and yoga in the morning will increase your metabolism and burn away what you eat afterwards. The effects of an early morning yoga practice are working all day.

It is obviously not an excuse to over-eat and indulge in salty, sugary and fatty products. But we can allow ourselves to eat a little more and have that sinful piece of cake without feeling guilty.

  1. You just feel amazing, the whole damn day

When I start my day with yoga, all that happens in that day, my reaction often is: wow, and I already did yoga today.

Some days good things happen and the joy of that practice in the morning is carried out through the entire day. We feel amazing, strong, open and energized. People see, people compliment you, just because you shine.

And then other days, they are shitty or even beyond that. You have to deal with hard, difficult and challenging things. The peace and quiet we have created in our mind in the morning, will give us a buffer to think clearer. It will helps us to create perspective on what is happening. And on top of that you can tell yourself: at least I took care of me this morning, I felt great when I came off my mat, and nobody is able to take that away from me.

  1. Body is less stiff, the mind is more calm

This last one is not necessarily a benefit, it is more a given. What I LOVE about morning practice are a couple of things:

  1. I always struggle to get up for it and I ALWAYS feel better and happy that I did.
  2. The mind is calmer in the morning, it is not up to speed yet, so we can find a deeper connection inside, with the Self.
  3. While the mind is more still, the body isn’t as open and flexible as at night. You can frustrate yourself over the fact that the poses your body is creating aren’t as ‘advanced’ or deep as they normally are. You can also see it as a great way to find these deeper layers in the body – the layers that you have to wake up in order to find a deeper stretch or the necessary strength. It becomes a game of the ego vs being humble, giving in and allowing yourself to be where you are.

So yes, I am a true advocate for early morning yoga. Does that mean that I never practice at night? Of course not! I love to practice any time of day. But the routine a morning practice gives me, the feeling it creates and the effect it has on my entire day are 100% worth the early rise.

Yoga for lower back pain

Yoga for lower back

Back pain, and in particular lower back pain, is something I come across a lot as a yoga teacher. Lower back pain starts below the ribcage, in the lumbar section of our spine. The great thing about lower back pain is that it often gets better on its own. But it is proven that yoga can help and speed up this process.

Lower back pain can have several causes:

  • Heavy lifting, pulling or doing something that twists your spine.
  • Doing a work-out that was too intense (especially at the gym or playing golf).
  • Sitting at a desk all day (especially when your chair is uncomfortable and doesn’t support your back).
  • A heavy tote bag, briefcase, backpack.
  • A slouching posture, when the shoulders slouch forward the lumbar spine starts rounding and loses its natural curve.

All these lower back issues can be around the muscles, but can also cause sciatica and herniated discs. Both are extremely painful and have to be worked with a lot of caution; careful movements and consciousness of what is going on in the body are key.

People who are at risk are generally over 30 and either have a job where they have to lift a lot, or sit behind a computer for extended periods, they have an inactive lifestyle or are overweight.

The 5 lumbar vertebrae’s are able to do 4 different movements:

  • Flexion (60%) – forward fold
  • Extension (35%) – backward bend
  • Lateral (20%) – sideward bend
  • Axial (5%) – twist

No other part of the spine is able to do a larger forward fold than this low part of the spine. That’s why we so easily can hurt the lower back when we are carrying heavy stuff. It is also the part where our secondary curve, named lordosis, is. When we sit all day, we decrease the curve by bringing our tailbone in and under the body. This causes tension and pain over time.

The 9 poses in the pictures will help you relief tension in the lower back. You can weave them into a sequence or use them as separate poses. If you are suffering from lower back pain, check to see which ones work best for you. Try it out, maybe you can even create variations of the pose, in order to get a bigger relief.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breathes through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.  Stay in a pose for at least 3 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

For further instructions of the poses, see below:

Picture 1: Marjaryasana / Bitilasana
Cat/cow pose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.

Picture 2: Malasana
Squat pose. Step your feet wider apart, at maximum as wide apart as the mat. Turn your feet out slightly. Separate your thighs wider than the torso and bring the hips down. Hugs yourself in between the legs. Keep your heels on the floor, or if necessary, roll up the mat under your feet. Press your elbows against your inner knees and bring the palms together in front of your chest. Hold it for a minimum of 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 3: Purvottanasana
Straight bridge. Sit down on the floor. Legs are fully on the mat and feet are hips distance apart. Place your hands on the mat, fingers pointing towards your feet. Your hands are straight under your shoulders (so next to your body). The hands are placed just behind the hips and thus behind your body. Inhale, push your hips up keep the legs straight. Feet stay fully on the mat, while you push your hips up as high as possible. It helps to squeeze your gluteus together. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 4: Salabhasana
Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.

Picture 5: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Picture 6: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Picture 7: Utthita Trikonasana
Extended triangle pose. Straighten your front leg, so both legs are straight. Have your torso similar to the Warrior 2 pose. Bring your body weight forward. Bring your arm down towards your leg. Either grab your thigh, lower part of the leg or ankle. Make sure your torso is parallel with your front leg. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.

Picture 8: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
One-legged king pigeon pose. Come to a downward facing dog pose (picture 7). Bring your right leg up and bring it forward. Right knee goes to your right wrist. Your foot goes as close to your left wrist as possible. Your hips need to be open to do this, so you might want to walk your foot closer to your body. Place your hands next to your hips. Breathe into your chest and stay up straight. A possible next step is to bring your body forward on an exhale. Make a diamond of your hands (hands are on the mat) and place your forehead in the diamond space of your hands. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 9: Reclining twist
Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.

Keep stretching!

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One of the most common reasons I hear for people to do yoga is stretching. Either they want to stretch, because they feel stiff, or they love to stretch and want to become more and more flexible. Yoga is great for that; it will stretch you on the mat and off the mat.

The feeling of a good stretch is satisfying and the contentment after a yoga class is rewarding. And that is because in yoga we don’t only stretch our bodies, we also stretch our minds, our boundaries & our breath. When we are able to combine all the different stretches in our yoga class, we can deepen tremendously in the pose:

The body opens up by practicing and will stretch deeper over time. We learn how to control our breath patterns and lengthen it when we need to hold a pose or create space in that pose. We always look for the boundaries and limits in our bodies and push them, touch them and see if we can move them a little further each time. We don’t march over our limits, but we stretch it in a comfortable way. And lastly, we stretch our mind, by learning how to control our patterns of thought through staying in the moment. Yoga teaches you that a laser sharp focus will improve your practice, creates a deeper connection to yourself and create a stillness in the mind. A stillness we can come back to whenever we are stressed, irritated or lack focus.

To me, the most interesting and biggest stretch is off-mat. How do you take what you have learned about yourself on the mat to your daily life? How can you make yoga something more than a work-out? How do you stretch the boundaries of what you believe you can achieve?

One big lesson I have had in the past couple of years, was that I was more concerned with what would come next, then actually appreciating what I had achieved so far. Every day I am growing and developing as a teacher, which creates bigger goals and more dreams about what I would like to achieve. I have made my master plan and every few months I look at where I am, what needs to be changed and how I should change my course of work. However the great part of it is, that I am able to also enjoy and be grateful for what I’ve achieved so far. I have set up building blocks that show me my progress. Every little step is one in the right direction on my path.

As a teacher you need to develop, extend your knowledge, understand the bodies in front of you, be able to explain different types of poses and offer classes that are challenging and satisfying. You need to be able to step out of your comfort zone to explore what else you have to offer. You need to push your boundaries and don’t take it personal when something doesn’t work out for you. Just like deepening a pose, sometimes you click, you got yourself a step further in your practice and sometimes the time and pose are just not right. All you are left with is take a deep breath, take in your lessons learned and move on.

Understanding the lesson and moving on is easier said than done, but it is the only way to test if you still gives life the opportunity to show you what it has to offer. It is the only way to discover if you actually stretch yourself or if you are led by your fears; your fear to fail, your fear for the unknown, your fear to lose face, and so forth. . Just like we do in our poses. When I practice a handstand in the middle of the room, I am afraid to fall and hurt somebody, I am afraid to fail which paralyses me to do the pose and I am afraid to lose face. I am a yoga teacher, shouldn’t I be able to do this pose easily? What would other people think of me? So all I can do is practice, learn how to fall, learn to accept my practice where it is and celebrate every small goal in my journey upwards.

So every stretch is one closer towards yourself. Every stretch is one closer to what you want to achieve. Using the mat as your playing field to test out what you can do in real life. But in the end it all start with being appreciative and grateful for what you have, your achievements both professionally and personally. Don’t only look ahead to where you want to be and don’t get caught in looking back to what was. Be in the moment, celebrate and keep stretching!

 

 

Yoga for sunny days

Yoga for a sunny day

The sun is out! And so are our legs, arms and abs. In winter time we cover up, which sometimes makes us forget to keep them in shape, keep them toned for when the sun is peeking around the corner. And even though yoga is not meant as a pure physical activity, it is still a perfect sport to work on toning your legs, arms and abs. And the absolute best part is that the benefits of calming your mind, getting a radiant skin, changing your perspective on life, improving your relationships and feeling your absolute best, are added for free. So let’s get you ready for summer!

All 9 poses will help you tone your muscles and all poses work on at least 2 areas, however, their main focus is divided as follows:

  • Row 1: Three poses that will mainly help you tone your arms
  • Row 2: Will help you tone your legs
  • Row 3: Will work on your abs.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breaths through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer than your inhale.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.
  • When in the pose try to be aware of what comes up, what happens in your body.

TONING ARMS:

Picture 1: Vasisthasana
Side plank pose. Bring your right hand under your face. Turn to the outside of your right foot. Bring your left foot on top of your right foot. If this is too heavy, place your left foot behind your right one (not before or after). Take your left hand up in the sky, look up to your left hand. If you can take up your left leg and grab your big toe with your left hand. Try to stay for a minimum of 3 cycles of breath.

Picture 2: Chaturanga Dandasana
Four-Limbed Staff Pose. From the plank, move your body weight forward. You are now on the tips of your toes. Bring your body weight down, like an airplane coming to land. Create a 90 degrees angle from wrist to elbow and elbow to shoulder. Your shoulders don’t go below your elbows. If you want you can hold the pose for a few breaths to build up strength.

Picture 3: Urdhva Mukha Savanasana
Upward facing dog pose. Lay down on your belly. Place your hands next to your chest, fingers facing forward. On an inhale, push yourself half way. Then straighten the legs, the knees come of the mat. Next inhale, straighten your arms. Shoulders are straight over your wrists. Look forward or up.


TONING LEGS (and gluteus)

Picture 4: Utkatasana
Chair pose. Come up from your previous pose by bending your knees. On an inhale bring both arms up. Arms are in line with the shoulders, palms are facing each other. Your tailbone is turned inwards.

Picture 5: Virabhadrasana III
Warrior 3 pose. From the previous pose keep your arms where they are. Bring the weight onto your front foot, take up your back leg and move your body forward. Your torso, arms and back leg are in one line and parallel to the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles for balance and make both your legs as active as possible. Stay for 3 cycles of breath. Change side.

Picture 6: Purvottanasana
Straight bridge. Sit down on the floor. Legs are fully on the mat and feet are hips distance apart. Place your hands on the mat, fingers pointing towards your feet. Your hands are straight under your shoulders (so next to your body). The hands are placed just behind the hips and thus behind your body. Inhale, push your hips up keep the legs straight. Feet stay fully on the mat, while you push your hips up as high as possible. It helps to squeeze your gluteus together. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.


AMAZING ABS

Picture 7: Plank pose, knee to elbow
Plank pose with one knee forward. Make it look like you are a straight plank. Have your hips aligned with your body, so not high in the air or close to the ground. Shoulders are 90 degrees over your wrists. Contract your abdominal muscles. Bring your right knee to your right elbow. Try to stay here for a minimum 3 cycles of breath. Change side.

Picture 8: Paripurna Navasana
Boat pose. Place your feet in front of you, hips distance apart. Hold with your hands under your knees; use this force to straighten your back. Keep your back as straight as possible during the entire pose. Balance on your sit bones; take your feet off the floor. If possible stretch arms out on shoulder height and a next step is to straighten your legs. Try to stay for a minimum of 5 breaths.

Picture 9: Salamba Sirsasana 2, legs 90 degrees.
Supported headstand 2. Start in a table top and place your elbows straight under your shoulders. Then interlace the fingers. That spot is where you can place the head. Then place your hands where the elbows where, fingers pointed forward (towards the head). Take the knees off the mat, straighten the legs. Walk your feet closer to your face, until your feet come off the mat. Bring your legs up at the same time. Stop when your legs are in a 90 degree angle with the floor. Stay there for a couple of breaths. Lower them closer to the floor again, right before your feet touch the floor, bring them back up. Repeat this as many times as you can. Stay for at least 5 breaths with the legs at 90 degrees. If you are afraid to fall over, use the wall for support.

Yoga in nature

Yoga in Nature

Most of the times when we practice yoga, we go to a school to practice in a beautiful space, surrounded by other practitioners: an amazing experience that begs for more. The energy that is created in the space by all those people echoes there for a while. This is something you will most likely feel when you enter the space.

Once in a while we take the time to practice somewhere else. Most often that is in our living room, or another space at home. I would like to add a location to it: NATURE, because the experience of practicing in nature, is one of a kind.

Yes, the ground is uneven, yes your mat (or hands and feet) will get dirty and yes, there might be people watching you. But if you can put that aside, the experience to practice outside is empowering. It brings you closer to yourself, it brings you closer to the earth you are living on and it changes your perspective.

Imagine that instead of looking to the person in front of you, you can look out over a lake; Instead of being surrounded by other people, you can be surrounded by trees; Instead of being surrounded by the music blasting out of the speakers, you are surrounded by the sound of the wind & the birds. And instead of having a fake-lighted room, you can practice with the sun in your face.

I’ve been fortunate to have lived in places that allow (almost year round) to practice outside. In São Paulo, I taught a class every Saturday morning in the Ibirapuera park. Most of my students told me they showed up because it was the perfect start of the weekend. Waking up in a yoga class, outside, looking up to the trees, hearing the birds sing during Savasana. It felt for a moment that we were not in a massive city, it felt for a moment that we were in a different, more peaceful world.

Recently I also learned that practicing yoga doesn’t always mean doing a full sequence of poses (asanas). Sometimes it can be as simple as, taking your shoes off, walking around the grass barefoot, and really really! focusing on your breath, the placement of your feet and the connection your foot makes with the earth. That by itself, can be a powerful yoga in nature experience.

So I would love to challenge you to, next time when you are outside, to find a spot and do 5 minutes of yoga. Any form will do. If you lack inspiration, check my Instagram for yoga in nature pictures.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in…

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Breathing is a thing in yoga, almost every yoga teacher will point out its importance. The breath initiates the movement, follow the breath, and generally speaking breathe in when you make upward movements and breathe out when you go down, backwards or twist.

The focus on breath stems from the ancient yogis who believed we were only given a certain amount of breaths in our life. So the longer you made them, the longer you would live. There is no evidence in favour or against this idea, but what we do know nowadays is that a steady & long breath and the awareness it creates in our mind and body can help us to improve our health. And therefore, maybe even prolong our lives.

Breath is ’smart’, as the quality of our breath tells us how we are doing during our practice. When you lose your steady and stable breath, then it is time to reflect within: why is this happening? Am I pushing myself too hard? Am I distracted? Is my mind wandering? It is a good point of reference, because often it is hard for people to really feel what is going on in the body and mind.

In yoga we breathe through the nose. One reason is because the nose helps you keep the dirt from the air out of your respiratory system. It also helps you to not directly breath in cold air into our lungs. It is this cold air, that increases our chances of getting a cold or cools down the body quicker that necessary, causing problem in the muscles.

There is also a wide variety of breathing exercises yogi’s practice, which I consider a very interesting subject to deepen your practice with. According to Krischnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, the breath was the key element to a healthy and long life. One of his long-time students A.G. Mohan wrote in his book about Krishnamacharya that his guru would say “ that the breath was controlling the inner functions of the body. (…) If you practice asanas with control over the breath and long pranayama (means: lengthen the breath or control the breath), your pulse rate should come down over time”. Which indicates a healthy heart and potentially a longer life.

But most important to Krishnamacharya was the fact that it helps you to control the mind. A.G. Mohan one of his favorite quotes from the master: “To cure the ills of the body, use the body. To cure the wandering of the mind, use pranayama”.

In other words, doing the asanas, the physical part of yoga, supports you in keeping a healthy, strong body, so we do not disturb our mind with illness. But when the mind is disturbed, the most powerful tool to use is the breath.
“There is no greater austerity than pranayama to remove impurities”. So breath is the key to a healthy body, a calm mind and potentially a longer life.

So when you go to a yoga class try to be aware of your breath, give it more attention then the physical outcome of the pose. Read your breath, learn what it tells you. But most importantly, learn your own rhythm. In many classes a teacher will tell you to inhale with a certain pose and exhale with another. This is based on the ‘fact’ that for most people this will support the outcome of the pose better. However, when it feels uncomfortable for you, don’t force yourself to breathe along. Find your own practice, your own rhythm. Follow the teacher when his/her speed and rhythm connects with yours, but don’t be shy to have your own.

Because in the end, yoga is about discovering yourself; Your own body, your own mind and your own powerful tool: the breath.

New Approach, New Insights

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The past few weeks I have been immersed in BoxingYoga™. It is a form of yoga that started in a Boxing Club in London with the primary idea to help boxers perform better in the ring. However, during the development of this yoga approach, it turned out to support way more people than just boxers. The great thing about it is that is supports fighters, athletes, yogis and any enthusiast that loves a strong work-out, that likes to be challenged and still wants to feel amazing and calm at the end. And therefore, perfect for me!

The training system consists of 12 rounds that will help you warm-up, build strength, improve endurance and get you flexible. The different stages are designed to improve mental and physical strength and flexibility, help maintain optimal health, prevent injuries and it maximizes performance.

So why did I just spend two paragraphs on explaining BoxingYoga? One reason is most definitely that I like to share my journey and tell you all what I am working on. But this is not my main reason; I got curious about this form of yoga, because I always like to see how I am able to bring the benefits of yoga to people who would normally not be interested in it at all.

I noticed that when I told people about it, and even when I heard about it for the first time, they are immediately interested. The contrast between boxing and yoga seems so big for so many people that they can’t seem to bring them together. How does it work? Do you fight during class? Do you use punching bags and gloves? And what about violence and yoga? All very valid questions and all questions I seem to get a lot. It is great to notice it triggers something in everyone.

The biggest thing I take away from it all is that by combining these two seemingly incompatible sports together we create curiosity, an eagerness to try it out, a hunger to know what it is. And not just yogi’s or fighters, literally everyone!

Teaching BoxingYoga puts me back into a position where I have to rephrase my yoga language into something understandable, for everyone. I need to understand all different options of the poses, so I can make them do-able, for everyone. I am re-discovering a wider range of body types and minds, so I renew my personal studies on how to give cues for the wide variety of bodies and minds, cues accessible for everyone.

It made me realize again how quick you can be stuck in your ways, how you often believe you are open and flexible, but way to often you fall back to what you think you know, what you believe is true. A new approach to yoga broke open my quickly built up yoga self-esteem and brought me a fuller experience of what yoga can be about. New approach equals new insights!