Dancers and Dancer Pose

The start of a yoga class can tell you a lot about who is settling onto their mat. There are different types of yogi’s. It is what makes yoga great – different people with different abilities all working towards the same peak pose, or at least a similar peak pose depending on which adaptation you choose or manage.

There are those of us who just flop down into a shavasana, maybe with a comfy bolster under the knees to get settled. There are the more ‘serious’ yoga folk who go through a bit of a routine. Then there are the ones who clearly have had some training in dance. They are doing the leg stuck out and stretching over it; usually very elegantly.


How do people manage to stretch their hamstrings before they are even just a little sweaty? My hamstrings don’t want to move at all until at least the third downward dog. But hamstrings, chest openers and a bit of a backbend are all needed to get anywhere near dancer pose.


This is another thing to focus on if you want to notice the variety in the class. It is hard not to stack your hips when balancing but the instructors normally do adjustments to keep your hips squared as much as possible. Especially in triangle, warrior 3 and dancer pose. This hip squaring adjustment thing is hard! My body just wants to fall. Maybe my body is just telling me that my bum weighs too much to be suspended squarely in the air.


So tree, floating tree thingy, warrior three and dancer pose. All balancing. All probably my least likely poses to do for any length of time. I have this weird thing where I balance better on one leg than the other but the opposite is true when I try and bind my toes and stretch out my leg. If that even makes sense. Basically I can stretch my legs (hamstrings) better on the opposite leg that I can balance on without falling. Frustrating!

It is a journey (I suppose!)

If this happens to you (yeah probably just me!) then it does get better with practice. In class this week I placed myself at the back. I like to think this was so that I wasn’t going to distract the people behind me with my wobbling. It is hard to keep your balance when someone in front is moving a lot. Ok Ok – it was so I didn’t wobble in front of everyone.

I was however rather pleased with myself that I managed all these poses with my hips squared (mostly). The repetition of triangle helped with the hammies and I didn’t fall out of tree even when I moved my arms up from my hips. So I was feeling pretty optimistic about dancer pose when we were getting to the end of class.

Peak pose – Dancer

I always have a bit of a wobble when I catch my foot. I never understand why I am holding it on the inside of the foot rather than the outside as it feels a bit odd. But foot in hand (on my good leg) I did a kind of dancer. Probably not like the image above. Definitely not like the two girls who were clearly dancers in the class and also like the serious yoga who basically did her own class before the class. For me it was an achievement though and there was a little grin from my instructor before she put me off with the grinning and I toppled over. I won’t mention my bad leg attempt. It was less than elegant. All in all this was definitely progress and I felt like dancing down the road home. I didn’t do that – someone would lock me up!

Shoulders back…Shoulders down

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

The more I do yoga the more I notice bad habits which affect my posture. My yoga teacher will say “shoulders down” and I will correct them. But it has felt unnatural. When you need to tuck your backside in and engage the (hidden) abs – fine. But how do I tell if my backside is sticking out too much normally (aka bad posture) when my view of it is that it is just a fat arse (it’s not really that bad…I am just being overly dramatic)?

Tight most things

I wouldn’t class myself as flexible. I have tight hamstrings, quads and shoulders. The hamstrings and quads will get there. I can see the change already in poses even as basic as Downward Dog and the fact that I can now grab my foot heading towards King Pigeon. I can’t do the splits yet, in fact I am nowhere near, but one day.

I am also getting better with the much needed back bend after a lot of help from my teacher; working to raise my chest up to bend rather than just trying to bend back (not sure that makes sense on paper but hopefully you get what I mean). My shoulders, however, are a bloody nightmare in lots of poses and I think (ok I know) this is down to bad posture.

Tight shoulders

The weird thing is that I actually quite like my shoulders. Lots of kettlebell swings, snatches and general weights over the past few years has given me ok definition in them and my upper back. This is great for any top I wear that slides over one shoulder. But the look doesn’t equate to actual strength. When I work on shoulders in the gym I always have to go pretty light. Same for chest (I clattered the bar the other day when I shoved a little too much on it). I don’t do lots of weights at the moment but my sessions now tend to focus on this area now to help with my yoga.

This area (shoulders, chest, upper back) is pretty important in loads of yoga poses. Any binds, inversions and even puppy pose work on them. So the “shoulders back and down” comment gets said a lot by my Hatha teacher. I get it. My shoulders want to raise right up to my ears every time my arms go above my head. I can’t grip my fingers together in the pose like the picture above and a lot of binds are beyond me. Even in shavasana my shoulders want to relax in a rolled position rather than flat to the ground.

For inversions you need to understand the feeling of open shoulders so that you can feel like you are wrapping them in to hug a ball without them pinching your neck. This kind of thing takes focus when your shoulders naturally just want to rise.

Bad posture

When you notice things in yoga you start to notice them generally. My relaxed position is to roll my shoulders. It is for a lot of people but it is bad posture and no one wants to end up hunch backed…right?

The problem with posture is that it gets bad over a long time. Bodies are great, they can mould themselves to whatever you need in life. The fascia (connective stuff with collagen) will set itself up in this way and so if you sit with your shoulders rolled at a desk your shoulders will eventually find this the most comfy position.

Sorting it out

Yoga is slowly doing that for me but it does need practice. Over 40 years of habit will take a while to rectify. So I am doing more and more to get comfy on good posture.

  • Shoulders back and down
    • I travel for work so in the car I have set up a good seat position and on the commute I roll my shoulders back and down (like putting your shoulder blades together). That’s a good two hours a day of practice
  • Using my yoga wheel
    • 10 minutes a day involving just being draped back over it and also doing a shoulder stretch with arms front
  • Keeping them down in movement
    • Any time I move my arms in daily tasks I am trying to focus on not hunching my shoulders up to my ears. Weirdly this takes effort.
  • Yin
    • Yin is helpful because the poses are long held and there to work the fascia.
  • Hatha
    • Hatha gives you time to correct in your poses. Tough going but worth it.

It’s all helping. I was never a hunched up person but i definitely roll my shoulders. After a few weeks I am starting to find more comfort in shoulders being back and down so it must be helping. My Hatha class today was working towards handstand. Purely focused on gaining the right posture to get to the strength in order to push up.

Sorting my posture will definitely be worth it…says me currently typing whilst keeping my shoulders back and down.

When you don’t feel like yoga: do yoga

After a busy couple of weeks and a long lie in last Sunday the last thing I felt like doing was heading out to a yoga class. I am not even talking about a vinyasa class where there is an expectation that my muscles will work hard – maybe even ending with sweaty knees and feet (yes it still amazes me that this can actually happen; why would my feet get sweaty!). It was a Sunday Yin class. I dragged myself into my yoga gear and out I went.

The relaxed version when you don’t feel up to it

I wish I was someone who could practice anywhere, on my own and every day. But at the moment I am still early enough into the journey and practice of yoga that I enjoy, and benefit more, from a class environment. So, not feeling like it, I got over the worst bit; which is basically getting into the appropriate clothing and swinging the yoga mat bag over my shoulder. When you don’t feel like something but you know it is going to make you feel great, relaxed, energetic, sleepy or even just content the best self talk is talking you into it.


My Yin class made me feel sleepy but a good sleepy without the drained feeling my long weekend filled with food and wine. It was just what I needed. Lots of deer pose onto a bolster and even frog was just what my hips and body needed. When we reached shavasana I was almost floating away. Thankfully I didn’t end up in a sleepy haze of occasional snores; someone else did though and it made me smile whilst in my state of yoga blissfulness. To end the weekend it was just what I needed. Having floated back home I lit an incense stick and just melted onto the sofa with a book. I forgot all about not feeling great.

Incense = relaxation

It is odd how I now associate incense with relaxation and yoga. I think back to my youth when people bought incense and listened to Pink Floyd. I am convinced that every generation will do this. I remember the smell was overpowering and so that phase in my life didn’t last long. So now I am into my forties, I would never have expected to buy some incense and light it alongside a little Bhudda and candles in appreciation of the history and practice of yoga. I buy a very mild one though that is purported to be the smell of the Maldives. I am not sure if this is correct, having never been, but it smells lovely and immediately associates my mind with relaxation (see link below if you fancy trying it). The incense in classes, when they use it, has created that association. It is an association I am happy with (unlike my chocolate association with…well with anything).

The harder version when you don’t feel up to it

After my Sunday Yin the week started off busy and I still didn’t feel like doing anything other than dropping into a heap on the sofa when home from a long day and what felt like a particularly long commute. So the though of my booked vinyasa flow did not appeal. But, again, it is the thought of something that is the hardest to get over. So on with the gear and the yoga mat bag and out I went. My self-talk has done wonders this week with my activity levels.


I passed the teacher who is such a lovely lady on the way in and she said not to worry, she was looking at a slower (almost Hatha) class to focus on getting into mermaid or king pigeon. Bliss! Well bliss that it was not going to end in sweaty knees but maybe not blissful in that I have found it really hard to even catch my foot in any pose like this due to my tight quads.

Unexpected benefits

Just rolling out your mat and lying on it before the start of class feels like unwinding from the day and getting into your own space. I have talked about mats before and it really is important to get one that you love. My one feels great and has enough grip to make me feel secure in most poses whilst also being eco friendly (see link to it on Amazon at the bottom of this post). So this was one unexpected benefit as I felt like I would make my way through the class and no matter how well I did, I was doing well to have arrived on my mat.

The class was surprisingly wonderful. As mentioned, my tight quads (probably could add a list of muscles to that assessment) have never done well in things like Pigeon pose and I have been no where near able to stretch into allowing my foot to place in things like Mermaid (I usually would use a strap). But this time I kept with it and we did a lot of chest openers to really allow the chest and back to stretch into the pose. This was probably most surprising. Not focusing on my quads, but on other areas, meant the final pose was achievable. Lots of downward dog but with a focus on the chest rather than on the hamstrings, on sidewards bends and humble warriors before extended time periods in pigeon. I use props a lot to ensure I relax into things. So having blocks under my bum whilst in pigeon really helps me to feel stable in focusing on the stretch. When I finally lifted into mermaid and, joy oh joy (did an internal whoop whoop and high five) caught hold of my foot, I kept a block in front to rest my hand on so that I wasn’t adding to my pose with the balance. Yoga is like that. No matter what you do you can achieve great progress whilst still having a way to go. I will eventually use no props but it doesn’t matter that I did. The achievement was brilliant for me. This is definitely going in my yoga diary with a little star.

Yoga every damn day

All thoughts of not feeling up to it, ‘I can’t be bothered’ and ‘I just need to go home and rest’ were gone. Instead, whilst both classes at the start of the week were very different, both made me forget about my lethargy. Yoga isn’t for everyone but now that I do it I honestly don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it. I am still doing 3-4 classes a week (maybe only 2 if particularly busy) but my aim is to get to the point where I am doing yoga every damn day. Even when I don’t feel up to it. I know that even when I don’t feel like doing it, I will do it 🙂


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).


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.


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).


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.

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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