I teach a once a month ‘Relax’ yoga class at The Yoga Lounge, at 23 Waring Taylor Street, Level 5, and also teach yin and gentle classes from time to time.
I also work full-time as a digital specialist in the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, museums). As someone who spends a lot of time at a computer, I fully understand the importance of getting onto the mat on a regular basis!
One of my former teachers in the States had a saying: “Some of us are made of elastic, and some of us are made of steel.” I am solidly in the steel category. I studied gymnastics for years as a little kid and never even came close to a split. In my early 20s, I did things like running and playing ice hockey without ever stopping to stretch my muscles. I’m about the least bendy person ever. I know, I know – yoga teachers always say that sort of thing, and then the next minute they pull their foot behind their head. Well, not me. When I say my body isn’t very bendy, trust me, it really isn’t.
For years I avoided yoga because I fell into the trap of thinking that yoga is about flexibility, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by going to a class and not even being able to touch my toes. When I finally did get to my first class in 2005, I was shocked to discover that there were quite a few people in that room who couldn’t touch their toes – it wasn’t just me! And what’s more, it didn’t matter in the slightest. The teacher told us to bend our knees and breathe. And so I did.
At first I practiced intense, fast-paced styles of yoga, and found numerous benefits from those practices. But as I moved deeper into yoga philosophy and began to study the yamas and nimayas (yogic restraints and observances), I realized that they weren’t quite right for my body. I found myself drawn to the first of the yamas, ahimsa, the practice of non-harming. Ahimsa involves living with kindess towards others and towards oneself. Practicing ahimsa means not pushing one’s physical body beyond its limits. But also, and just as importantly, ahimsa means offering self-compassion and kindness in thought.
When I truly listened to my body, I realized that I didn’t need to push myself so hard in my physical practice. I’d spent most of my life running around, doing seven things at once, trying to achieve as much as I could. Practicing gentle and yin yoga taught me how to finally slow down.
Gentle yoga is a softer, refreshing practice which includes breathwork (pranayama), and slower postures and movement (asana) to promote healing and renewal in the body. For those of us made of steel, over time it allows tight muscles to begin to soften and release. Gentle yoga can also help to calm the mind, and promote relaxation. It’s my favorite style of yoga, both to practice and to teach, and it is suitable for both beginners and advanced students – no previous yoga experience necessary!
Resources for a home practice
- Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice on and Off the Mat, By Richard Faulds
This book outlines the style of yoga that my teaching is based on. It provides instruction for postures, insights into yogic philosophy, and practical advice.
- Relax and Renew, By Judith Hanson Lasater and Mary Pullig Schatz
A great source for restorative yoga, with a focus on women’s needs.
- Forty Days of Yoga: Breaking Down the Barriers to a Home Yoga Practice, By Kara-Leah Grant
An honest and helpful guide to starting (and keeping!) a home practice. And written by a Kiwi!
I used to always teach with music, but in the past year have been using it less and less in my classes. There’s something to be said for sitting with the silences. However, in my own home practice, I often will listen to music to help create a more yogic space than just my regular living room on its own.
My go-to yoga mix includes lots of Wah!, Snatam Kaur, Deva Premal, and a splash of Krishna Das. At my studio in the US, we often used more mainstream ethereal music as well — Goldfrapp, Thievery Corporation, Air, Massive Attack, Ivy, etc.
For a really relaxing, deeply meditative practice, try Tod Norian’s Music Mantras, or Anugama’s Shamanic Dream II.
Obviously, what postures you practice on any given day depend on how your body is feeling and what’s calling to you. But ideally, a yoga practice should incorporate the whole body, and a variety of types of postures — forward bends, back bends, core strengtheners, twists, balance postures, hip openers, etc., etc.
I always begin my classes with opening breath work and meditation, followed by seated warmups (sun breaths, forward fold, twists, breath of joy), and cat and cow to begin to warm up the backbody. From there the variation (and the fun!) begins.