Three reasons why you should try an in-person yoga class

I started out with online classes: my mat fitting snugly between the sofa and the fireplace in my front room, being careful not to hit any furniture with my limbs as I moved through the sequence. I subscribed to an online site called Ekhart Yoga which opened my eyes to the power of yoga and the sheer vastness of it. I started to learn the names of poses (cat, cow, downward dog) and I really enjoyed learning to sync my movement with breath. It opened my eyes (and lungs) and got me curious about yoga and everything to do with it.

However, it wasn’t until I went to a studio class led by an experienced teacher that I realised what I had been missing by only practising at home.

Here are three of my top reasons why you should give going to a studio a try:

Adjustments – helping you to improve and avoid injury

If you really want to improve your asana technique, have a teacher look at what you are doing. A good teacher can see where you might be going out of alignment and run the risk of a future injury. When I first started online classes, I was putting a lot of pressure through my shoulders in my downward-facing dog, which sometimes left me feeling a bit sore the next day. When I started going to in-person classes, just a couple of physical adjustments from the teacher showed me that I wasn’t putting weight through the whole of my hands or rotating my shoulders quite right – I rarely feel any soreness now! Even in zoom classes it can be difficult for the teacher to see what is truly going on with a student – and we’ve all been there when we can’t quite get the camera angle right!

I like a physical adjustment (believe me when I say that sometimes there is no greater feeling in your calf muscles than when a teacher presses on your hips in downward dog), but I know that being touched by a stranger isn’t for everyone. You can absolutely say to the teacher that you would only like verbal cues in class and they will not be offended.

For those familiar with the Ashtanga primary sequence, a Mysore class is a fabulous opportunity to experience a class that goes at your own pace, similar to a workshop in style, but also feels like a one-to-one session. In Mysore, you move through the Primary sequence at your own pace as the teacher observes; they then come over to adjust or help you breakdown a pose to make it more accessible. From going to Mysore classes, I have realised that my pelvis doesn’t always want to stay level in prasarita padottanasana, which I now know to look out for.

Studios also tend to be well-equipped with props such as blocks, bolsters and straps, all of which can make your practice safer, but can be a little on the pricey-side to buy your own.

Finding your community and teachers

It might sound cheesy to say, but we really do live so much of our lives online these days; sometimes it’s refreshing to take a step away from the screen and be somewhere IRL. Depending on the setting, the teacher, and the other students, each class has it’s own energy.

There are some classes I go to where I know there will be lots of friendly chatting before and after, and people will up for coffee dates or walks, or other social activities outside of the class. But I also know there are classes which are a bit more meditative, and students tend to arrive quietly to their mats to settle in with their breath. So, there really is a class and a teacher for everyone, it is all about trying them out and seeing what fits for you.

Teachers work hard to create a sense of community, whatever the vibe of the class. They will (try) to remember you, to notice injuries, learn what works for you and what doesn’t. They are also fountains of knowledge, and will be encouraging you on from the side-lines as progress in your yoga journey.

And, somehow, they always seem to know just what you need that day…

Confidence outside the studio

When I first started in-person classes I was constantly looking around, trying to see if another student watching me but, whenever I checked, no one was ever looking my way.

I repeat: no one is looking at you in the studio.


No one cares what you look like with your bum stuck up in the air in downward facing dog, everyone is in the same boat. No one is looking at what you’re wearing, or counting how often you need to rest. Yoga, even in a full studio, is an intensely personal thing. It isn’t a competition. Plus, when you’re concentrating on not falling out of crow pose, you really can’t be staring round at anyone else.

I am a big believer that yoga is as much about what you take off the mat as what you do on it. By going to classes, and by realising that no one is judging me, I found a freedom that I have been able to take into other areas of my life. Whereas at one time I might have felt self-conscious even just walking from one end of the office to the other in case someone saw me and thought I was walking weird, I know now that everyone is in their own little bubble with their own lives to deal with. It’s been very liberating and given me a new found confidence.

As a wise person once said, you are only ever one yoga class away from a good mood. If being on your mat in your front room is your happy-place for yoga then keep practising there. But I invite you to start looking into your local yoga studios and gyms and seeing what is out there.

You never know what might be waiting for you.

My Top 10 Books For Yoga Lovers and Trainee Yoga Teachers

Have you ever heard of Jolabokaflod? It’s the Icelandic tradition of giving your loved ones new books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading them together. It translates as “Christmas Book Flood” and sounds like such a cosy tradition.

I love giving books to people for Christmas and below are some of my yoga favourites for anyone looking for ideas; then you can enjoy your own Jolabokaflod!

Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, by Darren Main

For anyone who is curious about yoga philosophy and looking for a place to start, this book is perfect. It explains yoga terms in a simple and easy to understand way, there’s even a glossary at the back of the book so you can quickly look up the differences between prana, pranayama and pratyahara should you wish.

Darren also describes his life and how he came to practise yoga, become a teacher, and some of the things he has learnt along the way.

In order to use our relationships in a new way, we need to shift control over to the Sadguru or inner teacher so that our relationships are based on love, shared abundance and the desire to express our innate wholeness. In doing this we are able to turn every encounter with another being into a yoga pose of sorts, and relating to each other becomes as much a part of our spiritual practice as sitting to meditate.

Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, by Darren Main

Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search, Swami Sivananda Radha

I bought this book before my trip to Varanasi in September to get myself in the mood for India. It is the diary that Sylvia Hellman kept as she travelled from Canada to India to learn about yoga, and then back again when she was told to return and take what she had learnt to the West. In the diary, she describes her life in the ashram, her spiritual journey to becoming Swami Sivananda Radha, as well as her travels through India. For anyone who loves travel and yoga this book was fascinating to read, she had such an incredible life and wrote with honesty and transparency about her encounters.

Scientists tell us that our globe is but a speck among millions of other specks in the universe, so we should be under no illusion as to our importance. But even our limited faculties are given to us for some purpose. We as individuals must have some value. Every single cell of my body exists without being consciously experienced at every moment and yet it belongs to the whole. Without the body it has no existence of its own. And this body is only a cell of something bigger – we are a part of something important.

Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search, Swami Sivananda Radha

The Yoga Manifesto: How Yoga Helped Me and Why It Needs to Save Itself, by Nadia Gilani

In this book, Nadia talks about how, at the lowest points of her life, she rolled out her yoga mat and practised. Since becoming a teacher, she has witnessed the growth of the yoga industry and asks if it has stepped too far away from the original spiritual practice.  I found it very interesting and engaging to read with lots of things to pause and think about. The book explores all kinds of scientific and philosophical points but in an easy to approach style.

Also, it makes you excited to get up early and get on the mat.

I felt it best to keep them moving as much as possible, so I taught an hour of Ashtanga Yoga – a dynamic form of doing postures that I have practised for many years. What makes this approach distinct is synching the breath with the movement. With practice the breath starts to initiate the movement and that’s when the magic begins to happen. Neuro-scientific research also shows that people who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can benefit from physical practices to help process trauma and improve the resilience of their nervous system.

The Yoga Manifesto: How Yoga Helped Me and Why It Needs to Save Itself, by Nadia Gilani

The Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga Philosophy, by Stuart Ray Sarbacker and Kevin Kimple

I bought this book to help develop my own knowledge of yoga philosophy after I heard a teacher referring to the Eight Limbs in a class. This short-and-sweet book is an excellent introduction to the Eight Limbs, breaking them down into understandable explanations and chapters, and how yoga philosophy can be brought into everyday life.

The practice of yoga is for imperfect people, especially those who are earnestly dedicated to transforming themselves and their moral and spiritual legacy in this world. As human beings we share a common experience of moral failings and regrets in our lives. Rather than conceiving of this as somehow a reason not to practice yoga, we can view these failings as a great motivating force for doing so… We can work to uproot the sources of our anger, greed, and so on, and in their place plant the seeds of future happiness for ourselves and those around us. From a Buddhist perspective, we should take up practice with zeal…

The Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga Philosophy, by Stuart Ray Sarbacker and Kevin Kimple

Light on Life: the Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace and Ultimate Freedom, B. K. S. Iyengar

This book is so full of wisdom and knowledge about yoga and how it can bring a sense of wholeness to your life. It shows us how we can take yoga off the mat and out into the world, to make us better people for others, but also improve our lives for ourselves.

By learning to appreciate breath, we learn to appreciate life itself. The gift of breath is the gift of life. When we receive a gift, we feel gratitude. Through pranayama we learn gratitude for life and gratitude toward the unknown divine source of life.

Light on Life: the Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace and Ultimate Freedom, B. K. S. Iyengar

Hatha Yoga: the Hidden Language, Swami Sivananda Radha

This book explores the symbolism of the asanas (physical postures), through which we can discover layers of meaning and connections within ourselves. The asanas are split into groups: animals, birds, plants and structures (such as the mountain, the triangle, the eagle, the scorpion), and the reader is invited to hold an asana for a longer period of time and be curious about what it may bring up.

The book prompts you with questions you might like to ask yourself as you hold the asana, encouraging you to make reflections and take your time within each posture. If you want to start practising on your own, this book is a wonderful guide and encourages curiosity and self-exploration. I have found it to be very inspirational.

The name of the asana is the place to begin to look for its symbolic meaning. For example: Mountain. The words we often associate with a mountain are strong, massive, immovable, insurmountable, high. What have mountains meant to peoples of different cultures? You can ask yourself: “What does mountain mean to me? My inner strength, my immovability or stubbornness, my strivings, my insurmountable obstacles, my lofty ideals?” as you stand in this posture and view it as a symbol, think of your struggles to reach the top, the stretching of your body and the effort of the muscles helping you to see different aspects of yourself and gain new insights.

Hatha Yoga: the Hidden Language, Swami Sivananda Radha

Yoga School Dropout, by Lucy Edge

After a decade in advertising and enjoying a wine or two, Lucy quits everything and goes to India to travel round the different yoga schools and find her way to happiness. Not quite a beginner, and not an advanced student, she tries to find a daily routine in the different schools and ashrams that she stays at, but nothing really feels as right as she expected. This book made me laugh out loud and roll my eyes as she describes her journeys round India and the people she meets in the schools along the way. Also, great for anyone who loves reading about travel.

Train number 6525, the 21.00 Kanyakumari Express from Bangalore to Trivandrum, sat at the platform for a good hour after it was due to depart. The note on the timetable was proven right – passengers were warned that the published time of departure was the earliest the train would leave.

Leaving Mysore I had felt like a prisoner newly released from jail – seeing the world as if for the first time. Now, as I stood in the train doorway, sounds seemed amplified – the hiss of departing trains, the shouts of the chai vendors, the excited screams of children. I took in the broad spectrum of Eastern colours and textures with wide-eyed wonder. How come I hadn’t noticed these things before? Living in Mysore had felt very insular, the students were almost entirely Western and there had been little exploration of the world beyond the yoga schools. The small details of Indian daily life that I now saw before me held me transfixed. The platform was crowded with the friends and families of the departing. Young women in parrot-green and flamingo pink saris tried to control uncontrollable children, older ladies looking stern – adjusting their spectacles and tut-tutting at the lack of discipline, important men with important business looked on impatiently.

Yoga School Dropout, by Lucy Edge

Teaching Yoga: Adjusting Asana, by Melanie Cooper

This book was a god-send during my teacher training, and I still regularly refer to it now when creating my sequences. Adjusting can be a tricky thing and requires confidence – this book takes you step-by-step through the Ashtanga primary sequence in an informative and easily digestible way.

Teaching is an ongoing process. In the beginning you teach what you know. As time goes on, your understanding deepens, your knowledge expands and your teaching develops. Your practice is a major resource for your teaching. As you go along, your practice helps your teaching and in turn your teaching will help your practice.

Teaching Yoga: Adjusting Asana, by Melanie Cooper

The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence, by Chloe Brotheridge

Not a yoga book, but I think this is a must read for any teacher (or any student) looking for that extra little boost of confidence. I read this as part of my YTT and can honestly say it helped me so much with understanding confidence and how to build it.

Hint: try it, at the very least you won’t expire on the spot.

Being human is messy. We are by our nature imperfect beings. Trying to be perfect actually goes against our nature! It’s unnatural! What needs to come first is acceptance. Weirdly, that’s when things start to feel perfect, when you accept that you, as you are, are pretty awesome. Accepting your imperfections doesn’t mean stagnating. It’s going to make your life so much richer to think of yourself as ever evolving, ever learning and growing, and always making progress, no matter what.

The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence, by Chloe Brotheridge

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Again, not technically a yoga book, this is about creativity. I think it is a common trait amongst yoga students and teachers to appreciate creativity. I love this book, I love Elizabeth Gilbert. Quick side note, if you haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, (I know, who hasn’t), I recommend it, for the descriptions of pizza alone, but also her experiences of going to an ashram in India and her discussion of the world around her.

Both are wonderfully written books by a truly inspiring author.

Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “ a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the sense for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

What yoga books do you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

What should you be thinking about during savasana?

We’ve all been there… it’s been a good class with plenty of poses that have challenged, stretched and engaged us, and then teacher instructs to get comfy for savasana. To let our bodies sink into the mat, to relax. And then all the thoughts start rolling in…

“What am I having for tea…”

“I mustn’t forget to email that person…”

“Did anyone else hear the noise my tummy just made?!”

Savasana (or corpse pose) can be the hardest pose because there’s nothing to do but be there in it.

As a society, we are normally so busy, going from one thing to the next, and savasana is just the opposite. It is an opportunity to be still, without distraction. This can be so hard! Our brains can be our own worst enemy when it comes to relaxation, trying to get us lost in thoughts and stories, instead of letting us be.

So are you really supposed to lie there? Yes, enjoy the stillness! If thoughts do bubble up to the surface, acknowledge them, but then release them. Don’t start attaching judgement or reasoning, simply let them go. A yoga teacher once told me that it’s like being in a traffic jam, where the cars are thoughts, but then you lift up and out of them in a hot air balloon. You can still see the cars but you’re not stuck amongst them anymore.

Try to enjoy those last few precious minutes of class where no one needs anything from you and you don’t have to do anything. Give yourself permission to relax – even if it is the middle of the day and you didn’t get a chance to press send on that message before you started your practice. It will still be waiting for you after the class. Give yourself permission to take that time to rest here and now.

Savasana comes with practise, and you need to be somewhere that you feel safe to relax. If you’re in a class and feeling anxious then maybe have a word with the teacher to see what can be done to help you feel safer in that environment.

If you really struggle to switch off and relax, maybe try finding an affirmation that you can repeat to yourself that resonates with you. Something like:

I am safe, I am warm, I am loved.

I am safe, I am calm, I am relaxed.

You will find the right words for you.

But, over time, you can feel yourself relax and even enjoy savasana. Enjoy not attaching on to the thoughts that bubble up, enjoy witnessing what arises and then letting them go.

Try it this evening. Find a place where you feel safe and cosy and lie down for ten minutes. Corpse pose is how it sounds: lie on your back and let your body completely relax – let your legs and feet lie how they wish, let the arms and body sink into the mat. Embrace the stillness. If this doesn’t feel good for your lower back you could try bending the knees and taking the feet as wide as the mat, allowing the knees to knock in towards each other and hold each other up (also known as active rest pose). Without distraction or self-judgement, take some time for you to relax.

The Christmas Countdown: Tips to Help Ease Stress

The shops are playing Christmas songs, adverts for party food are on TV every night, and diaries are filling up with exciting festive engagements: the run up to Christmas is a magical time with lots of merriment, but it can also be mentally draining, physically exhausting and, at times, just outright anxiety inducing.

Here are a couple of things to try over include in, or get you started with, your morning routine to help with The Christmas Countdown.

Bonus points if you can do them before checking your phone!

Get up and move your body – stretch it out

When the mornings are colder and darker, it can be hard to get out of bed (believe me, I know). However, I’m a firm believer that some stretchy movement first thing in the morning is really helpful for the rest of the day. (Also, movement naturally gets you warm so even if you get cold getting up, you won’t be for long!).

It doesn’t have to be a full-on workout, or leaving the house in the cold darkness, it could just be some simple stretches or mobility exercises. For example, moving through child’s pose, some cat/cows, downdogs or seated twists, can be great for both mind and body.

Movement helps the body release cortisol, serotonin, and endorphins, this helps to lower stress levels and encourage you to feel good and more energetic for the rest of the day. Brill! There is also research to show that by achieving something as small as getting out of bed and completing a short movement routine, works wonders for helping us feel like we’ve already achieved something before the day has properly started. Winner.

Finally, moving, stretching, strengthening, releasing can only be good (provided we are safe and avoid injury). Your body will thank you later.

Pranayama – breathwork to bring yourself to the present moment

By focussing on the breath, we can bring ourselves to the present moment – an excellent place to start the day. By allowing ourselves time to not worrying about to-do lists, shopping lists, what we ate last night… we can just be here, now. Repeat to yourself: I am here, now, in this body.

Also, increasing the amount of oxygen in your lungs and blood is a great way to refresh after a night’s sleep.

Try a few rounds of Box Breathing. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, pause for four. Then repeat the cycle for a few rounds.

Journaling – How am I feeling this morning?

Start the day by asking yourself that question: how am I feeling?

Write down what comes up without judgement or getting lost in stories (or making it into a to-do list). Instead, notice how you are feeling mentally and physically. Are you tired or energetic, for example? Are you feeling purposeful or tense? Are you achy, sad, excited, or is your mind full of chatter you can’t switch off. Getting it on the page does help to free the mind.

Read back over what you have written and notice any patterns or triggers. Notice if you write things like ‘I must do’ or ‘I need to’ and see if you can change the language to something less black and white, ‘I would like to…’ or ‘it would be good if I could…’ We put so much pressure on ourselves over Christmas to get things done! You can’t fill from an empty cup and so taking time in the mornings to really notice how we are feeling, and our energy levels, can be useful.

Meal planning – Life is too short to say no to roast potatoes

This might seem a little controversial, but I write about food because I can really make myself feel awful over what I eat and drink in the run up to Christmas. During this time of year, I’m lucky that I get to go out and see friends and eat in lovely restaurants with family quite a lot. I don’t want to seem miserable and turn down the invites, (or tearfully look through a menu… I’ve been there!) so instead, I think about the meals I can control that day and what I can make for myself that is fresh and healthy.

Then I don’t get lost in self-blame for enjoying a roast potato or two. Or seven.

This time of year is meant to be fun, so accept there will be times of over-indulgence without feeling guilty.

Find a yoga class and get booked on

Finally, there’s something really special about taking part in a yoga class in winter. It can be online from the comfort of your own home, or finding a local class. There’s something very cosy about sharing a class with others – feeling their energy surround you and lift you up, and the teacher (hopefully) saying something soothing. Release and relax, stretch and re-set; yoga is all about helping the body and mind feel good. Go and get that yoga buzz!

Tips for setting up a yoga routine

We all know that if we want to see the mental or physical benefits of yoga, we won’t get them by only doing a class every once in a while. We should set aside regular time and space to be there, fully there, for our practice.


Life is busy and things pop up to steal away our attention.

This post isn’t about making anyone feel guilty for putting other things before their yoga practice – we all do it, and sometimes it does feel really hard to justify putting yourself first. But, we need to! Yoga is so good for the mind and body, and we need to find time for ourselves in our ever-busy calendars.

Here are a couple of my tips for how you can make time for your yoga.

Find what works for you

What is the best time for you?

I have experimented with practising at different times in the day and found what works for me. I’ve tried to get up and out of bed at 5.00am, but it was just too early for me and it was too easy for my brain to convince me that being in bed is good, being out of bed is bad. Instead, I’ve found that if get up at 7.00am, stick the kettle on, and then do some gentle movement for 20 minutes to wake up my body with some pranayama (while my cup of tea is cooling), this works better for me then trying to do a full practice first thing in the morning. In the evening, after work, is when I do my main asana practice. Sometimes this is at home, but mostly I like to go to a studio class. I have found that having a practice later in the day works so much better for me and accepting that I am not an early morning yoga person has actually been a bit of a relief (more on that later)!

Where are you going to practice?

If you’re practising at home try to find a space that is away from other distractions and has a calming atmosphere. Somewhere comfortable and where you feel at ease: you won’t be able to give the practise your full attention if you’re worried about being disturbed. If there are other people in your home, tell them this your time to practise and be firm! You’ve got this.

If being at home isn’t an option, try going to a local studio or gym and book a class. I know it can be a bit daunting the first time, but I love the energy and sense of community you get with a studio class. I’m also very grateful to live close to some fantastic teachers who inspire me, challenge me, and guide me. There’s a class to suit everyone and it might take some effort initially to find it, but it is worth it; there are some great teachers out there who can help you to deepen your understanding of yourself and yoga.

Booking yourself into a class is also a great mental prompt – you’re booked in and you’ve probably had to pay to secure your spot. So, when 4.50pm rolls around and you start to consider going straight home rather than to that 6.00pm class you booked last week, just know that you have made a commitment to yourself (and to your teacher), and you should uphold it.

How much time do you have?

Be realistic about the time that you have available. Don’t try to force in an hour long practise every morning before work if you don’t have the time – you’ll only end up annoyed at yourself for not doing it, or not getting the full benefit. Remember, it’s meant to feel good not rushed! Doing 5 minutes of pranayama is just as powerful as doing 75 minutes of the Ashtanga primary sequence. Listen to what your body needs at that moment and honour that.

Yoga is not just the physical postures

Yoga is made up of the ‘Eight Limbs’ and Asana, or the practise of postures, is only one part of ‘yoga’ (which means to yoke, or connect), and each limb is equally as important. They include:

  • Yama – restraints, moral disciplines, or moral vows
  • Niyama – positive duties or observances
  • Asana – postures
  • Pranayama – breathing
  • Pratyahara – sense withdrawal
  • Dharana – concentration
  • Dhyana – meditiation
  • Samahdi – bliss or enlightenment

Sitting still in meditation is yoga, concentrating on your breath is yoga, practising the yamas in your daily life is yoga, and holding tree pose is yoga. You can do it anywhere and anytime – yoga is always there for you.

Make things as easy as possible for yourself

I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I wish I could float to my mat each day but I can be very easily distracted by external influences. If I’m not careful I can find that that thirty minutes I put aside for yoga has been swallowed up by watching reels and posts. Very guilty. So, make things as easy as possible for yourself. Whether you’re getting up early to go to class, or making the effort to do it when you get home after work, set it up so that you don’t have an excuse to avoid it: make it so that it’s harder to say no, than it is to just get into that downward facing dog. Remember, you’ll feel so good after!

Try having your mat out and ready so you can literally roll straight out of bed and onto it in the morning. Or pack your bag the night before so you and your favourite yoga pants are ready to go straight after work. Put a block in your calendar so nothing else can be booked in.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Finally, this is your routine for you. Yoga is such a personal thing and what works for some people doesn’t work for others. I used to lie in bed at 5.00am guiltily looking at Instagram and see other yogis on their mats saying how great it was to be up early  – and I’m sure for them it was! Everyone has their own preference. Unlike me, you might have children or family members that need attention first thing in the morning, so you have to be up early to practise, or you might have to wait until everyone has gone to bed to find your perfect time. You might love those 5.00ams and be wondering what on earth I’m talking about wanting to stay in bed. We all have our preferences and things that work for us. Our routine is one of them. Enjoy it, do it, own it. You don’t have to answer to anyone.


Finally, exercising self-discipline and acceptance. Practise makes perfect, and while perfection isn’t what we strive for in yoga, showing up for ourselves again and again is.

Find the time, put the phone down or turn the TV off. Unroll your mat or even just grab a cushion and sit down. Accept that there are some days when a pose will feel easy and some days when it won’t, there will be some days when your balance is perfect and some days when it definitely won’t be. Accept that there are some days when the last place you want to be is sat in meditation… but that is probably the day you need it the most. Forgive yourself on the days of not wanting to do it and then do it anyway, and celebrate yourself on the days that you do. You know that you will never regret a yoga practice.

The Wisdom of Water: morning retreat at Harewood Holistics

Ever been to a yoga class followed by a tea ceremony next to a lake? Ever shut your eyes and listened to the buzz and hums of nature, the nearby water stirring, and the sound of tea being poured?

Harewood Holistics’ morning retreat ‘The Wisdom of Water’ offered just that. This post is a about the retreat and my thoughts on whether a morning is enough.

Retreat: The Wisdom of Water

Location: Harewood Holistics (The Arch Barn, Harewood House Estate)

Duration: 10.00am – 1.00pm

Cost: £45 (price included 1 hour of yoga, a tea ceremony and refreshments)

Teacher: Ella @wellnesswins

To get there we travelled past the estate (including fields full of deer), through woods and over bridges, the shadows from the trees playing with patches of sunlight on the road. By the time we arrived, we already felt as though we had escaped the world to a little patch of serenity.

Ella, our teacher for the morning, was there to greet us and show us to the studio for an hour of yoga. It was a gentle vinyasa class and, as the theme of the morning was ‘the wisdom of water’, the postures and movements were chosen to encourage us to connect to the water within and around us. It was a slow and thoughtful flow, our spines rippling through half sun salutations and cat/cow movements, to stand strong in our Tadasana and Virabhadrasana II poses. To finish, we relaxed into a restorative child’s pose with blocks and bolsters as support, giving space to connect to the water within.

I love yoga for its ability to help me switch off my brain to the mindless, endless chatter that goes on in there. When I’m on the mat, it goes silent. Ella’s teaching style was also so gentle and intuitive that I felt deeply connected to the practice.

The studio was so beautiful and calming. The beams above us had been lit up with blue light and the mats arranged in a semi-circle around the centre where a sacred shine made up of branches, flowers, crystals and lit candles, had been created. At the top of each mat, a crystal and box of incense had been placed for us to take home, which was such a thoughtful touch.

Following the class, we were invited to stay silent as we walked from the Arch Barn to the lake in another part of the estate. The walk was longer than I expected (with a little hill) and if I had any comment on the day it would be that I would have liked more time to do the walk, as we were encouraged to look at what was around us, noticing textures and sounds. But I appreciate that it was only a half-day retreat.

We crossed a bridge over a little stream and past a few fields including one full of black sheep. The sun was shining and there was so much noise around us, from the sheep to the breeze in the leaves, to the sounds of other visitors enjoying the estate. When we got to the lake, we sat in the grass (on the mats provided), for a Rasa tea ceremony: it was such a beautiful morning for it.

Still in silence, we were invited to close our eyes to allow our other senses to enhance. There was so much to hear: the birds, the lake, and the grasshoppers that were in the grass all around us. Ella read to us from The Radiance Sutras (by Lorin Roche) about the importance and effect of ceremony and how it makes the mundane sacred. She then asked us to listen to the sound of the tea being poured into the cup.

Tasting dark chocolate,

A ripe apricot,

A luscious elixir –

Savor the expanding joy in your body.

Nature is offering herself to you.

How astonishing

To realize the world can taste so good.

The Radiance Sutras (49)

The tea was chocolate goji rose, and she spoke of why she had chosen this tea and the significance of the ingredients. She asked us to open our eyes and look at the cup she had placed on the grass in front of each of us. When I looked, I saw that a grasshopper had landed on the rim of mine; I watched it sit there for a moment before it hopped off. Then I saw the shadows on the surface of the tea, the colour of the liquid, the green of the grass and the earth around it.

We picked up our cups to hold them and feel the sensations from the warmth. Ella then invited us to lift them to the chest in front of the heart so we could feel the warmth there. We then brought the cup to the chin and then to the nose to have our first smells of the tea. Every part of the ceremony was done so slowly, leaving time to feel, to notice and to acknowledge. From arrival at the lake to the first sip, Ella created such a sensory journey.

For me, the first sip tasted so strongly of dark chocolate and then came the sweetness. I thought back to the sutra Ella had read to us and how this was such a special celebration of the tastes and wonders that the world has to offer.

We were given a few more moments in silence with our teas before the cake was cut and passed around along with the chance to chat and share. A quick note about the cake: it was a slice of lemon drizzle (yum), and a lemon muffin, so it was a very good morning for those of us with a sweet-tooth.

It was such an all-round gorgeous morning and it made me think that sometimes retreats are sold to us as needing to be a week or so break away in a far off land in order for us to properly relax. I’ll note here that I haven’t been on a yoga retreat abroad (yet!), so maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing. However, I thought on that Sunday morning by the lake, that we don’t have to go far from home to ‘escape’ and find relaxation, and that it can just be for a morning and you will leave feeling refreshed. It also doesn’t have to cost the earth, and you don’t have to do anything in the hours or days leading up to it so you can feel as though you have ‘earned’ it. You can just go down the road, into the fields, and find somewhere that you can sit in the silence and listen to what’s going on within.

I will be keeping an eye out for future retreats at Harewood Holistics as I enjoyed this morning so much.

What is a yoga brunch event like?

With so many yoga events popping up all over the country (and all over Instagram), I’ve often wondered if they are they worth it? Is it about the yoga, or is it more about the ‘experience’ leaving the yoga part to be neglected or over-looked?

I went to a Yoga Brunch event on Saturday held at Left Bank Leeds, it was an hour of yoga followed by a vegan two-course brunch and… I have to say, I loved it.

The class was an energetic vinyasa flow that started with a gentle warm-up and then moved on to some hamstring-focused poses. It was taught by a favourite teacher of mine, called Bryony (which is how I heard about the event), who is excellent at providing an all-levels class that can be gentle as well as challenging depending on the student.

But, the special part was the chance to eat, talk and relax with people afterwards. And, the food (by Mol’s Café) was so good!

The event was held at Left Bank Leeds which is an old church that has been re-purposed into a gorgeous and fun space for the community. When we arrived, the room smelt of incense and the light was softly coming through the stained-glass window at the front of the space. They had also strung some fairy lights and paper lanterns across the area where the yoga mats were laid out, and so when we were lying down it was so pretty to look up to the lights and then on to the old church ceiling with the wooden rafters above. As the class went on, the smell of incense was replaced by the smells of cooking which added a lot of excitement for what was to come.

The brunch was delicious. We started with courgette fritters served with butterbeans and crushed tomato, which were super garlicy and yummy, with a dollop of yoghurt, and a portion of salad greens, basil and toasted seeds. This was then followed by a very generous piece of apple and almond cake with chunks of raspberry, and a cup of herbal tea.

We sat on benches around a long table, with jam jars containing flowers picked from Bryony’s garden decorating the centre (which I’m upset I didn’t take any pics of because they were so pretty). Everyone was so friendly and happy to be there, it was such a positive, well, experience! It demonstrated the power of yoga to bring people together and build connection and community. I will definitely be going again if it is offered.

Yoga teacher: Bryony May Yoga

Food: Mol’s Café

Location: Left Bank Leeds

What’s the difference between Restorative and Yin Yoga?

Restorative and Yin yoga both involve holding poses for a length of time, with the help of props, to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (promoting rest and digest). But there are some differences between the two.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga poses, if done correctly, should feel like you are doing nothing at all. By using props such as blankets, bolsters or bricks, the joints of the body are held comfortably and feel completely supported. From there you can encourage your mind and body relax into the pose. For example, in a recent class I went to, we started by folding up a blanket, lying one end of it over a brick placed at the top of the mat, and then lying down with the head on the part of the blanket over the brick. The blanket then supported the spine, coming to just above the coccyx, so that the bum was off the blanket and on the mat. Then, covered by another blanket and a bolster placed under the knees, the teacher encouraged us to take a scan of the body and start letting go of any tension.

Before my first restorative class I remember being nervous that I might miss the instructions for how to set up the props and then try to relax into something uncomfortable. However, I really needn’t have worried: a good teacher will give the instructions slowly and clearly, and there is plenty of time within the pose to adjust if something doesn’t feel quite right for you. One of the great things about Restorative (and Yin) yoga is that each student is in complete control and can make the poses their own.

If you’re at home and don’t have any these specific props, all you need is a bit of wall space, some chunky books, a chair or even a towel or some pillows. Just get comfy and allow yourself to R E L A X. You can hold a restorative pose for anywhere from 5 to 10 to 30 to 40 minutes… It’s all about listening to what feels good in your body.

Some of the benefits of Restorative yoga include increased blood circulation, reducing stress and promoting good quality sleep.

Yin Yoga

Similar to Restorative, Yin gives you time to be calm and settle into the body to become more aware of what is going on within.

In a Yin pose, we apply gentle stretch to the muscles (this is sometimes referred to as finding the “edge”) and you should feel the stretch but not any pain. Then by holding the pose for a few minutes and connecting with the breath, the tissues may start to soften.

An example of a Yin pose could be sitting with the legs wide on either side of a bolster, folding forwards from the hips and bringing the head to rest on a brick placed on the bolster. This would help stretch the hips and inside of the thighs. It would also focus on the liver meridian. In Yin, the poses work with energy channels in the body known as meridians. A teacher can choose a particular channel (like the liver or the stomach) and plan the class around that area.

Yin is helpful for increasing flexibility as well as clearing stagnant energy in the body.

I think both Yin and Restorative yoga have a reputation for being ‘easy’. They don’t have the dynamic flow of Vinyasa or the non-stop jumps of Ashtanga, but they do have their own challenges. You have to be comfortable to find the stillness of the pose and be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes I have classes where I find I can empty my mind and soften into each pose easily; and there are some days where I really struggle to turn off the internal stream of mental chatter. I can be physically still but mentally? That’s a whole other ball game.

But, as with anything, it is about practise and learning what works for you and what doesn’t, and being accepting of the times when it doesn’t work.

For me, Restorative and Yin classes are part of my yoga practise as a whole and not just isolated classes to help me relax. The things I learn when holding poses for a longer period of time also helps me progress and get more out of my Vinyasa and Ashtanga classes. For example, my understanding of the connection between the body and the breath is deeper after Yin and Restorative; and also being in control of the pose – if something is painful or restrictive, then I can adapt the pose so it suits my body. Iyengar students see restorative classes as a fundamental part of their yoga and I agree – plus it is always good to give yourself time and permission to relax and restore.

Yoga glossary: What does ‘yoga’ mean?

“Yoga is a more comprehensive practice than simply stretching and breathing,” says Darren Main in his book ‘Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic.’ So, what does ‘yoga’ mean?

The word comes from the Sanskrit meaning to ‘yoke’ or ‘unite’ and the physical postures (asana) only make up one part of it. Yoga is about the uniting of the body with the mind, the soul, and the breath; but also between the individual and a sense of connection to a oneness around them.

The physical poses are a great place to start, because we learn so much about ourselves as we learn the different poses. Poses that seemed impossible when we first tried them do, after time and practise, become easier. But originally, the physical poses were about preparing the body to be ready to sit in meditation for a long time, rather than the vinyasa and ashtanga flows we know now. 

Pantajali, a Sage in ancient India wrote the Yoga Sutra around 1800 years ago and in it he outlined the principles of yoga: he described it as “the cessation of mental fluctuations” and to get there the student should follow the path known as the ‘Eight Limbs.’

The Eight Limbs include the Yamas (ethical and moral observances to live by), Niyamas (spiritual observances), Asana, Pranayama (control of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (liberation). I will go over the Eight Limbs in more detail in another post, because there is so much to say about them, but in effect yoga is as much about how you live your life off the mat as it is what you do on it.

How can we practise off the mat? Do something that brings you joy, get out in nature, express gratitude for the life you are living and don’t live grasping for more, being kind to others and yourself. As my yoga teacher says, there’s no point in having a great class where you hold every posture perfectly to then get in your car to drive home in a fit of road rage. But sometimes it’s hard to feel content with where you are in life, and sometimes the guy that just overtook you on a roundabout really did deserve all the swearwords you showered him with. Yoga isn’t a quick journey where you learn the poses and you’re done, it’s an ever changing, continuous journey that takes time and discipline. But that’s what makes it so interesting.

As Darren puts it: “Remember that yoga…is a practice, not perfection. It’s the process of returning to your yoga practice over and over again that gives you the benefits. Doing the perfect yoga pose or clearing your mind of all thought is well and good, but in the end it is the practice of returning to yoga that allows you to live life to the fullest.”

So, my questions to you are: what does yoga mean to you and how do you practise it off the mat?