Yoga for Everyone

Yoga Myth Busters : “Real Men Don’t Do Yoga”

If you’re a guy who won’t go near a yoga studio because you think it’s full of flexible, fit, slim, young women, that’s completely understandable. (Although I have male friends who would see that sentence as immediate motivation to rush to yoga quicker than you could say Om).

For thousands of years, yoga was taught and practiced mostly by men, in India. When it became popular in the West as a fitness craze for women in the 70s and 80s, it somehow also acquired a stigma of being a woman’s thing—of no use to men. You know, like macramé.

How ridiculous and how untrue! For decades, women have enjoyed the many yoga benefits of flexibility, strength, balance and peace of mind; while men continue to suffer from lower back pain, tight hamstrings, immobile hips and the endless stream of thoughts of a stressed-out, busy mind.

businessmen-yogaWhether it’s to supplement or replace a sweaty gym workout, or you’d just like to be able to pick up your grandchild without herniating a disc, you too can join the growing number of men in the US benefiting from yoga.

Gym dudes will see improved flexibility and increased muscular endurance from the long holds in yoga poses. Golfers will enjoy an easier swing, from more limber spine and hips.

Businessmen will discover improved concentration and focus, perhaps setting an intention for their work week with more clarity, after experiencing how using intention during yoga creates awareness and discipline.

With manic schedules and stressful responsibilities, that one hour or so of yoga may be the only time for some men to decompress, slow down, and breathe.

And don’t worry if you can only do 10 percent of what an ultra-bendy female next to you is doing. Choose instead to do 100 percent of what your body can do. That is more than enough. The general female tendency of more flexible hips makes way for the overall male tendency of more strength, so there will be poses most men can access more easily than most women—if that matters to you. You’ll know you’re really “doing yoga” when you don’t give two hoots about that kind of competition anyway, because you’re too busy enjoying how good you feel during and after yoga.

Almost convinced? Here’s a nudge that may motivate you … yoga improves your sex life. Yes, read that again. An NCBI study (pubmed/20646186) reveals yoga as “an effective method of improving all domains of sexual functions in men.”

Athletes, film stars, singers and business execs have turned to yoga; as a powerful anti-ageing tool for building stamina, improving concentration, and reducing anxiety and depression. LeBron James, Tom Brady, Sting, Adam Levine, Russell Simmons, Robert Downey, Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and many more. That’s quite a diverse group of yoga guys.

There’s a yoga mat waiting for all men; it’s simply a matter of finding a yoga space where you feel comfortable. Do some research, perhaps try a class led by a male teacher, or go with a friend—male or female. It won’t be long before Warrior and Plank Pose become a casual part of your health and fitness conversation.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

Asana, Yoga for Everyone

Yoga Myth Busters : “I’m Not Flexible Enough To Do Yoga”

If I had received a secret yoga power for every time I’ve heard that statement, I’d be enlightened by now. As yoga teachers, we shake our heads in frustration when we hear it, because that’s as illogical as saying I’m too dirty to take a shower. It’s precisely because you’re inflexible that you need yoga.

yoga-cartoon-too-stiff-to-do-yogaCan’t touch your toes? Perfect! You’re an ideal candidate for yoga. If anything, you could benefit even more from yoga than the naturally flexible yogis, whose bones and joints genetically slot into place with minimal effort. Your stiffness means you’ll really feel the positive effects as your body starts to experience relief from being tight.

Ultra-bendy yogis can also easily injure themselves through hyperextending their joints, or going too deeply into a pose. Lucky you, Mr or Ms Creaky Joints—the more inflexible you are, the quicker and louder your inner alarm will ring when you’re reaching your limits, and so you’ll stop (if your ego is in check) and avoid injury.

Yoga isn’t about an end goal that culminates in a glamorous photo of an impossible pretzel pose, anyway. If we did manage to tuck one foot behind the head, does that make us a better person? Of course not.

What does make us feel better is releasing tension in the body, easing the mind from the busyness of the day, and taking long, relaxing breaths.

Ready to take your rigid limbs to the mat, then? Good. Some tips along the way:

  1. Patience. Cultivate buckets of it. Without patience, you may force yourself too far into a pose, and cause injury.
  2. Experiment and find a yoga class where you fit in, with an experienced and encouraging teacher who understands your body type.
  3. Don’t give up after one or two classes. I’m naturally inflexible and I promise you, with regular practice, it does get easier—to the point that it can become seductively addictive, because you feel so good during and after yoga.
  4. Explore. Be curious, instead of judgmental, about the physical mechanics of your body and how and when it feels challenged. What happens if you relax a bit in the poses, instead of trying so hard? Are you holding your breath instead of breathing with ease?
  5. Warm up before yoga, especially if the weather is cold. Try a short walk, or arrive ten minutes early to do some simple stretches.
  6. Avoid comparing and competing—with yourself as well as with others. It doesn’t matter what’s happening on the mat next to you. As long as you’re in the zone of safe alignment, measured breathing, and no pain, you will benefit from your practice.

gumby-yogaGo for it! Get your stiff and inflexible bod over to a yoga studio, recognize and smile at the other kindred spirits who can also hardly touch their knees, let alone their toes, and ease into some stretches that will make your muscles, joints and soul sigh with gratitude.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Meditation

This May Tempt You To Try “Yogic Sleep” — The Ancient Practice of Yoga Nidra

Yoga-Nidra-class-web-6
My body sleeps, but my mind stays awake … huh? How does that work? Welcome to the paradox and the power of Yoga Nidra; exploring the state in between being asleep and being awake.

This is not pretzel yoga, or kick-butt yoga, or sweat-your-bits-off yoga … it’s Anyone-Can-Do-This yoga. You need nothing more than your desire to create a sense of calm in the body and the mind — no special skills required. In fact, the most challenging element of Yoga Nidra is often the ability to stay awake!

Yoga-Nidra-Benefits-7352So, what exactly is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra places you in a state of tranquil awareness, preparing the mind to receive positive messages, at a subconscious and emotional level. In my experience, two major things happen:

1 — Relaxation

Lying down (or seated), listening to a specific system of guided relaxation, your body comes to a place of complete rest, while the mind remains alert and yet calm. Even as you enter a dream-like state of consciousness, your mind stays awake; following the verbal cues, becoming aware of sensations in the body, and using sensory perception and visualization techniques.  These methods for calming the body, the subconscious mind and the sympathetic nervous system, are extremely grounding and relaxing.

2 — Intention

This is a powerful aspect of Yoga Nidra, when you introduce your intention (or sankalpa in Sanskrit).  Here, you state your affirmation for personal transformation; your wish for what you would like to be, or have, in your life — good health, calm mind, confidence, success, a change in your relationships — whatever your heartfelt desire is. Think of your sankalpa as a vow between you and the Universe, or a higher being.

Some examples are:

  • I am happy and healthy in body, mind and spirit.
  • My dreams and aspirations become reality.
  • I breathe in calmness and breathe out peace.

Yoga Nidra creates the perfect setting for you to initiate change in your life, because it is easier to alter habits in this “conscious sleep” state than in the waking state, when we are typically more resistant to change. Although you are not trying to actively fix or change anything during the Yoga Nidra practice itself, regular repetition of positive affirmations in this state, can be transformational.


Yoga-Nidra-classIf you’d like to try Yoga Nidra, join me at Simply Yoga or at Casa Mannabliss, or contact me re other Yoga Nidra events.

And for those who would like to do guided relaxation at home, I’m delighted to have just finished recording a Yoga Nidra album, accompanied by the peaceful music of Richard Brookens, available here as well as on Spotify, Amazon, YouTubeApple Music, iTunes, and Google Play.

To your continued physical, mental and emotional good health!

Namaste.

Travel, Yoga Retreats

10 Reasons To Go On A Yoga Retreat (on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala)

1.   Your Destination Is Dramatically Beautiful

Lake-Atitlan-Yoga-RetreatSet in the highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlán is celebrated as “the most beautiful lake in the world” — as famously described by German explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. It’s the deepest lake in Central America, a crater lake (caldera) formed by the very volcanoes that surround it today. The three giants rising up over the lake provide a majestic backdrop for the ever-changing colors of the day. Idyllic, unparalleled, magnificent views surround you, justifying the use of all superlatives in trying to describe its beauty.

When you pull yourself away from staring agog at the volcanic vista, you’ll notice you’re immersed in nature. The gorgeous gardens of our eco-resort are filled with exotic birds, butterflies and tropical flowers, with the added temptation of exploring the verdant green hills and traditional Mayan villages in the area.

2.   Unplug And Relax 

Yes! A reward for working hard and a much-needed break from daily stresses, a yoga retreat at Lake Atitlán allows you to invest in your wellness and top up your energy levels.

Lake-Atitlan-hikeA yoga retreat also has a smorgasbord of “additional activities”. Plenty on offer, depending on what your definition of relax is. Do you want a yoga retreat which is active and energizing, calming and contemplative, or a little of both? Notice what you naturally choose and consider doing something a little different, perhaps unplugging more than you typically would — or, at the opposite end of the frantic/lazy spectrum, perhaps getting off your bum and enjoying the natural beauty of a hike or kayak excursion. You get to decide what level of RELAX you need.

Lake-Atitlan-sunriseRelax also means UNPLUG. Less technology, more nature. Repeat that mantra. Less technology, more nature. Give yourself a technology detox, as you connect with magnificent sunrises, sunsets, star-filled night skies. And if you can’t go cold turkey on unplugging completely, at least minimize your connection with the outside world, so that it doesn’t drag you back into the busy-ness from which you’ve just traveled many miles to escape!

Disconnect from all those little white umbilical cords attached to phones, iPods, tablets, laptops, and anything else that remotely resembles something that knows how to ROFL and LMK. Yes, fellow yoga retreaters, ICW. It. Can. Wait.

3.   More Yoga!

A yoga retreat is the ideal opportunity to do more yoga than you typically would, with an already-crammed schedule at home. We offer yoga twice a day on our retreat; typically a vigorous morning practice and a quieter, more relaxing practice in the evening, with meditation.

Yoga-Retreat-Guatemala-AtitlanDon’t be intimidated by “YIKES! 3+ hours of yoga a day?” — you’ll be encouraged to abandon any grim determination more suitable to a gym workout, as you deepen the poses without aggression, but with a sense of curiosity. You’ll see progress in your yoga and open up to new experiences on your mat … which you can pack up in your suitcase and continue exploring at home.

4.   More Time To Meditate 

Meditation-yoga-retreatThe combination of having guided and/or group meditation as part of your yoga retreat program, and the simple fact of being in a place with reduced distractions, will allow you to truly explore meditation.  This could be an extension of your existing regular meditation practice, or the catalyst for establishing one.

Outside of a group setting, take a few minutes (hey! take an HOUR — why not!) in the morning and evening to be completely still and contemplative. Take this mindfulness with you on an energetic hike, or even a lively trip to the chaotic markets of Chichicastenango, and you can turn activity into a moving meditation.  Talk less. See more. Think less. Experience more.

5.   Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Life-begins-at-the-end-of-your-comfort-zoneGoing somewhere new – new country, new language, new food — all of these elements stretch us beyond the stretching of our muscles in physical yoga. Unfamiliar experiences open the door to yoga of the mind, yoga of emotion, yoga of psychology.

When we’re no longer behaving like automatons, or stuck in the rut of routine, this is an ideal time for self discovery, making space for personal growth. By stepping forward and doing unfamiliar, sometimes scary, things, we create the path towards discovery and new-found confidence.

In this new and liberating frame of mind, you might surprise yourself and find you’ve signed up for zip lining in the morning. Try new things. You’ll head home with a new perspective on life, whatever your personal yoga adventure.

6.   Healthy Eating

Scrumptious-veggiesMost yoga retreat focus on nutritious eating and the destinations we choose on Lake Atitlán, are no exception. The food is healthy, tasty, often vegetarian (with optional meat choices), and includes some local touches. You’ll enjoy delicious soups, guacamole, tamales, omelette, fresh local cheese, quesadillas and more.

At the end of your retreat, you can make a commitment to continued healthy eating and incorporate some of these elements into your diet.

7.   Coffee

Guatemala-CoffeeOkay, I know I just wrote about kickstarting a new eating routine and healthy diet and now here I am, advocating a good dose of diterpines, caffeine and kahweol.

But my grandfather used to say, “moderation in everything”, and I’m following his lead on this one. Plus … “The majority of recent research suggests that moderate coffee consumption is benign or mildly beneficial in healthy adults.” There we go. If Wikipedia said it, it must be true.

So, get used to saying the phrase, “Café con leche caliente, por favor” and prepare yourself for Coffee Nirvana, as you get to savor the world-famous, fragrant coffee of Guatemala.

8.   Cacao

How can you not love a country where chocolate is sacred? Arguably the first chocoholics, the Mayans saw cacao as the food of the gods (me, too!) and held annual festivals to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah.

Guatemala-chocolate-ixcacaoCacao was the drink of choice for the Maya elites and it was used in royal and religious ceremonies. It’s even cherished enough to be written about in the sacred Mayan book, the Popol Vuh.

And here’s a fun discovery – it looks like the Maya invented the first chocolate bar snack! – “So that they could eat cacao at all times, the Mayans also created an on-the-go form by packing it tightly with cornmeal into small round slabs. Warriors carried these snacks, which their enemies envied and stole.”

I bypassed ancient Maya warriors and indulged in little snacks of cacao decadence of the modern type; rich and flavorful, heavenly bites of handmade chocolate bliss.

9.   The People of Guatemala 

The local people are welcoming, friendly, and proud of their country. You’ll see some beautiful Guatemalan faces against the vibrant colors and designs of traditional dress, especially in this region, which is renowned for the Maya people who still practice sacred and ancient traditions.
Guatemala-faces
Regional dress is worn daily, not saved for special occasions, especially in the smaller villages. Cheerful and intricate weavings; women with bold designs on skirts and headdresses, men in jaunty cowboy hats and embroidered pants. In Guatemala City, you’ll see some traditional dress juxtaposed against the mostly modern and westernized sneakers and jeans, but the villages appear to be holding on to their traditions, which is a delight to see.

Guatemala-facesIf you’re so delighted and tempted to capture some of this on camera, don’t assume you can just click away at the people you see in the villages and markets. They will cover their faces or turn away in annoyance — and wouldn’t you, if the roles were reversed? Sometimes it’s appropriate to ask permission to take photographs in exchange for a few quetzales. Assess each situation, be friendly, and graciously move on if the answer is no.

10.   New Friendships

A yoga retreat in magnificent surroundings is likely to attract people with similar intentions and attitudes to life as yours. Your group may have a diversity of backgrounds, but you all have at least two things in common: you chose to go on a yoga retreat and you picked Guatemala. You’ll meet new and interesting people and have the chance to turn them into lifelong friends.

We’ve designed our next retreat on Lake Atitlán on October 21-25 with all the above benefits in mind, so that you can return home, restored and refreshed, and motivated to take that sense of peace back with you and into your daily life.

Join us at the eco-chic Villa Sumaya!

Click here for more info and to register