Keeping a yoga diary

Another few months and I will have been doing yoga for a year. It’s quite a journey of discovering strength, flexibility and a meditative way of keeping healthy. So today I looked back at my early reflections on my practice. Amusing at times, but a great way of knowing where I was and where I’m going to in yoga.

One of my teachers always says “wherever you are in your practice today is exactly where you are meant to be”. I love this quote as it sums up, for me, the yoga journey (yes I am starting to sound like a yoga person).

Diary

There are loads of ways people track their practice. Instagram is full of yoga sites and I love following them. The pictures which show a pose a year ago versus today kind of inspire you to keep practicing. I’m not one for doing the video or photo diary though. I’d rather keep my delusional images of gracefulness for a while longer. So I kept a little notebook.

My early musings are great. The word “shaky” comes up a lot as well as “bloody ell my hamstrings are tight”. But it also says things like “so relaxed after yin” and “feeling more like I can flow through my sun salutations”. Downward dog felt difficult for me in the beginning and I don’t even mention it now as it feels like a lovely release in between even the toughest of flows.

Intentions

We often set intentions at the start of a yoga practice. I set some for the year. To do an arm balance (tick – got crow and working on progressing to some other ones). To do an inversion (with my feet up trainer but not yet without). The third: to achieve ‘bird of paradise’ (still working on it).

Achievements

My biggest reflection is that I am sticking with this and enjoying it! My yoga diary re-affirms that and how far I’ve come (and how far I want to go). It sounds simple but progressing to compass means I can now get my leg to a position where I can ‘rock the baby’. I am no where near getting it over my shoulder but I know I eventually will. Achieving the progression (I wasn’t able to hold my leg in this way a few months ago) was a woohoo moment. I also don’t write the word “shaky” as much.

These are great reasons to keep this diary. The woohoos are as good as the moments of relaxed bliss.

Sunday’s are for yin

Sunday bliss doesn’t come from being busy. When the sun is out and the days are getting longer my idea of a great Sunday is spent lazing, pottering, doing a little bit of gardening and then strolling to yoga for a bit of yin bliss.

The relaxing bits

Sometimes Sunday’s are spent strolling around the new town or along to Stockbridge but today I just donned the flip flops and light clothing to sit in the garden. After a little trip to Tesco to get a few essentials I grabbed my book and water and sunglasses. Light reading today – ‘Crazy Rich Asians‘. A really fab book to remind me of sunny days on my holidays to Asia (minus the crazy rich folk). It’s well worth a read and the film is also great.

The neighbours are out too so my day reading is interspersed with a bit of good chat and a few snacks.

The booking

Done, the notification beeped to say there was a space for yin yoga. A delight of a class and whilst there is an edge to the long held stretches, it prepares the body and the mind for a kind of serene calmness that takes you into the evening and then to rest.

So I now have an hour or so to wait. I’ll water the growing veg then grab my mat and go. I’m already looking forward to the shavasana.

I did a proper inversion: with a little help

I am finally getting over the lurgae (bad cold) which was clearly helped by all my pills, Vicks and cough medicine (probably not but it made me feel more actively involved in my recovery). So finally I have had a go at my feet up trainer. This was bought by my sister for my birthday and its fair to say I was really chuffed and excited. I just wanted to get it built and get started. The cold held me back as my body wasn’t convinced that I could even screw the bits together never mind turn itself upside down. So I waited.

Yoga Inversions

These have eluded me so far. Clearly the photo on this blog isn’t me; Its what I would like to look like (and probably what I think I look like at times). Its not surprising though as I don’t have much core strength and am building this slowly through my practice. I have tried the dolphin to inversion on arms and with assistance from a very good and patient yoga teacher I got there. But not for long before my head decided it wanted to be touching the floor. My stomach also figured this was a good idea.

But there is something about inversions that makes me just want to do them. It is probably because they always were so achievable when we were children. So understanding why, as an adult (getting on a bit adult), my body doesn’t agree its a good idea is just confusing.

The Practice

They aren’t overly focused on in my yoga studio. There are workshops on arm balances which I have been too scared to try. I need to get stronger in my crow and my core to hold these things all together. Inversions, and particularly handstands, are not easy to do with control and in yoga it is about the movement, control and hold. So this is the difference with my childhood, where you would just go for it and the momentum would take you up. I can do a handstand at home against a door with this technique but its not what I am aiming for anymore.

How to get there? There are loads of different options. Check out Patrick Beach and sit back in amazement at what he can do. He, and loads of others do programmes which you can purchase and which do look amazing. If I am being honest though I think that will be a second stage for me. First stage is just being comfy in the position of being upside down and holding my stomach together long enough to start to feel supported. The alternative is a weird stomach wobble which is a clear indication that my legs should move towards the floor! So my first stage thinking meant that inversion chairs would be the best idea. I don’t want to do my inversions forever on them but I do want to start to use the muscles I will require for later attempts (free of props).

Inversion chairs

As I said, I was lucky enough to get a good one (Feet up trainer) from YogaMatters. There are loads of these on loads of different sites though (Amazon, Ebay etc.) at very different prices. A cheaper version can cost around the £60 and you can go up to the £180 or so. My one came in just under £120 and it looks like it has a bit of quality and I like the design of the legs and arms which allow you to hold on (hand placement). It has a facebook site and Utube videos galore for you to look at other newbies and experienced practitioners of inversions; so lots of great tips and advice to get you started. I think if you are going to use this go for something a bit more expensive (pounds per wear rules).

It is also worth getting a few books to start with (and then maybe going for the paid online courses at a later stage. I have the complete guide to yoga inversions (https://amzn.to/2KcBRqn) but there are loads to look at and they are useful in figuring out what the poses should be and what they should look like.

An upside down view

It is bloody brilliant! My first attempt took a bit of momentum and I did place it near to the wall – just in case i decided to inadvertently try a weird forward flip. But once up (or upside down) for the first time my first thoughts were ‘this is not as hard as I thought’. First small steps were to just hold and feel comfortable. I have also tried a few twists and leg drops / raises. This is probably where my practice will be focused as I do want to train and develop my core. I’m maybe not that graceful yet but I will get there. I probably need to do the whole video thing to record my development. Maybe not though. I prefer to write about it and consider myself as a graceful upside down person who looks like a yoga model. A video would shatter that view and deep down (deeper than my superficial vanity) I don’t really care – I just want to have fun doing my yoga. And my practice has just got a new toy to play with.

Starting yoga: buy a good mat

When I started yoga (now called my yoga journey since I am 7 months in and feel comfortable with the yoga type language) I did a few classes in my local gym. Cue the rag tag bunch of various types of mat. I tried them all. Some were far too thin, far too thick, too sticky, and worse – not sticky enough. This was frustrating because your mat does matter (see what I did there).

Joining a studio changed my view. It is one of the good ones where you can always get a mat and don’t have to pay extra for the privilege. The mats were good too! All the same, all Manduka pro. Just the right thickness and hold. This was especially important for me given my ever elusive core muscles were not holding my ‘form’ in the right place (update – it still isn’t; but it is getting better).

Choices – confusion – choices

The temptation as a new Yogi is to go for comfort. Don’t fall into the trap as you will end up with a gigantic and very thick mat which will look ugly and make you look rather ungraceful when you keep falling due to the lack of root to the floor (aka feet feeling like they are stable).

Don’t go for too thin either (I would suggest leaving out anything classed as a travel mat; unless you are only using it when travelling). Especially if you are into you forties and your knees protest at even the though of a hard floor.

Consider price. You can go cheap but I would avoid it (for the reasons above). So then you are into the £60 – £120 range of prices. But the problem – there are blooming millions of them to choose from.

My choice

Having searched all the possible sites I got it down to 2 choices. The Lifeform mat definitely appealed. I am a sucker for the most expensive choices which doesn’t always mean quality but the reviews on this one do stack up to it being a great product. I almost went for it but there was one thing that held me back. The lines for alignment (or something like that) are brilliant. My alignment is lacking in brilliance though. I still end up at different bits of the mat in my sun salutations. I get that this might improve matters however I would not like to highlight my inadequacies just yet; opting for the blissful joy of feeling like I am getting through my classes, improving in posture and decreasing in the sweaty knees and red face effect. Next mat though; this is probably the one.

So Manduka it was. I already knew (from the studio mats) that I was comfy on them. But again there is so much choice. The 5mm ones looked good but I worried about them being a little heavy to carry up the hill. Mandala also do different styles. The pro or eKo. I went for eKo which is made from natural rubber and so has enough stick without being sticky. I also figured the eKo lite wasn’t giving away to much comfort in thickness with the bonus of being lighter to carry. Choice made and mat purchased (by my sister as a present: bonus). It cost just over £60 (the lifeform is just over £100) so mid range in terms of cost and brilliant in terms of quality./

The bag

This was important. I know they have these strap things which you sling round the mat and over your shoulder. The weather here isn’t always great though. So I bought a bag. Check this one out. This took me just as long as the mat choice as I wanted to look at least a little stylish walking to and from class. I apparently do. My neighbour caught me coming back in one day and said I looked very ‘New York’. I felt like a yoga pro 🙂

The practice

I said buy one in the title and I really mean this. If you are going to go to yoga regularly, even if it is just once a week, having your own mat makes a difference. It settles you into the practice without the distraction of your mind trying to figure out how your body will manage on a mat you don’t know. Your knees (even if they do get sweaty like mine) will thank you for it.

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My new yoga habit

How I started

I started yoga for the first time last August. Seven months in and I absolutely love it. My gym membership is redundant as a result and in February I was at classes 3-4 times a week.

Like all good cynics of Yoga I always had the view that it was unachievable, too sedentary and full of overly pretentious people who love to give fake hugs and ‘namaste’ every one they see. I was really wrong about this; not for the first time in life! So being in the ‘lets try everything’ frame of mind I took a class at my gym. A bit of time out from the never-ending deadlifts, squats and (the ones I really hate) burpees. I liked it. The instructor was doing free classes as she was pretty new to teaching. But first class in and done I felt pretty relaxed. The next morning my muscles ached. First realisation of yoga, it isn’t as easy and ineffective as I thought. It can be expensive though and my free classes at the budget gym weren’t going to cut it if I wanted to give it a go. Aims – strength (obviously in this day and age) but also flexibility.

Luckily a new studio opened up in Edinburgh and I signed on immediately. The studio you go to is important. This one was perfect. A place that didn’t have an inexplicable list of classes that I wouldn’t understand. Easy explanations of what the types involved, and more importantly, taglines telling me all levels welcome and intensity of each type.

Which class to pick?

I started with Hatha. The slow pace has really allowed me to understand what the poses are, how to build on flows and it also meant my teacher was able to take time to teach me. The class was mixed. Yes there were the tall, skinny typical yogi type. But no one was pretentious. First myth debunked! Secondly I could do most of it without falling over and the strength Ive built up with weights really helped in things like high lunges and planks. I never imagined I would be able to do it. Hatha is great. Its not as easy as I thought it would be and sometimes I wake up with the same DOMS as a leg day in the gym produces but that just makes me more hooked.

I tried Yin. Wow, just wow. There is an edge to the long held stretches. But doing it by candlelight in an Edinburgh studio in winter is just the most relaxing experience. I literally float away from every yin class.

The vinyasa classes. These vary so much depending on the teacher in terms of strength, fluidity. But they all have one thing in common – a class that moves you through an hour of poses which help you develop and make you feel great. I don’t think I could touch my toes at the start of my yoga ‘yourney’ (yes using the lingo now!). Now I can and feel comfortable enough with the other yogis (non-pretentious bunch that they are) to know that my practice is my own and my flexibility is getting better at better. My muscles are even developing (shoulders and back especially!).

I say pick them all and enjoy the variety this brings. There is something for everyone.

Biggest achievement in yoga

Crow! I know it is probably the easiest of the arm balance poses, but for me it is the most impressive thing I have done. There is something about balancing with a somewhat wobbly appearance when you know last week you were face planting the floor.

So today I’m off to my Hatha class. I can’t wait and yes I will bow namaste and be grateful for my practice when its done. I am a yoga person. I like yoga people. I am basically a new me 🙂