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Trikonasana - the triangle
Trikonasana - the triangle

I really like the apparent simplicity of how we move our bones through space and time - flexing, extending, bending, twisting, hinging, pivoting, rotating, reaching, folding...the list of efficient and effortless movements goes on and on. Or not.

As we grow, develop and establish our routines across work and leisure we pattern our habitual movements. Our natural three planes of movement, front to back, side to side and rotational may not get fully used throughout our day.

The bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons are enveloped in layers of connective tissue and fascia. I describe this in my yoga classes as a ‘spider man suits’ that hold things together, from the superficial layer, just under the skin, to really deep layers.

When our habitual patterns of movement settle into these skinsuits (causing tugs and lines of pull), functional movement tends to be compromised, efficiency tends to be reduced, and 'effortless' tends to become 'effort-full'. We lose our all-round range of motion that we had as children simply because we don’t use it.

I can see from the classes I teach that many of us have developed such constraints.

Typically a yoga posture will place us in all three planes of movements at once (think of any twisting forward hinge hip opener!) That’s one of the reasons we ought to never get bored in asana practice - there are always bones to align, joints to stabilize and mobilize, muscles to strengthen and stretch, and fascia to unwind and unbind.

I make sure that my public classes are intelligently sequenced to move the body through the three planes and develop strength and flexibility as well as balance. We focus on functional movement and a strong stable core.

Whilst we may not be able to turn back the years, we can at least recover the range of movement we once had with some really good yoga!

See you on the mat.

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Go further and easier with a tuned body...

If I have one regret looking back over 30 years of running and cycling, it's the fact that I didn't start practicing yoga sooner. I still love doing both activities as much today as I did back in the late 1980s and I'm also a strong advocate of incorporating a functional exercise training program into my weekly training.

Running and cycling are essentially repetitive movement of the body in the same plane.

This single direction aspect contributes to imbalance and overuse injuries. Yoga practice involves working the body in all directions, helping to maintain muscle strength symmetry. Muscle strength symmetry is a key factor in avoiding running and biking injuries. Yoga teachers will take great care in their class arrangements to replicate poses on each side of the body, providing a balanced workload on the student’s bodies.

"Asana" is a Sanskrit word for body positions or body movements that occur when practicing yoga. During asana movements, we employ coordinated breathing techniques during the movements and while holding yoga poses. Yoga poses are held for periods of time, creating a steady, isometric workload on muscle groups, especially in the core and leg areas of the body. Balance poses can be extremely challenging when performed correctly. Isometric muscle contractions place a sustained, even workload on the muscle fibres. Contracting a muscle group in an isometric manner is one of the best ways to develop evenly balanced muscle strength.

When I embarked on my yoga practice, little did I expect the consequential improvement in strength and stamina that would develop. Nor did I expect the core strength and how this improved my breathing, both in training and competition. A good yoga class will deliver as much core strength and stability as a Pilates class, if taught correctly.

I did expect that my range of movement would increase, and I would gain flexibility, which would help prevent injury rehabilitation.

All these things are great but what I find really encouraging is that whilst my running, cycling and swimming times steadily drop with the onset of age, my range of motion, balance, strength improve yearly.

Furthermore, breathing techniques and meditation will change your life if you embark on a regular yoga practice.

So, if you are keen on sport or have one eye on a park run, I would strongly advocate inviting yoga into your life to see where it will take you.

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I am always trying to address the many concerns that people have when I talk about taking up yoga.

Mostly, they are the same and exactly where I was before I took the first step. Let me suggest a few and see if they resonate,

I’m not flexible enough

It’s not for me

I can’t touch my toes

It’s a bit ‘woo woo’ and chanting isn’t it?

I wouldn’t have time

Why would I?

not 'woo woo' just releasing the tension

The list does go on and quite understandably these are enough to act as significant barriers to entry for some people.

I am encouraged however that more people lately are getting involved. Yoga is on the increase, we, the yoga industry, are finally improving the social media content to be more inclusive and diverse and, thanks to Yoga Alliance Professionals and some of the other organisations, better training for teachers. The Health Service is encouraging people to self-medicate for some common conditions, I have been privileged to teach yoga to students that have simply turned their lives around through their own home practice.

These students came to yoga as a last resort, the painkillers were helping but they didn’t see this as sustainable for the body, they went through the physio regime, as best they could… but they were still concerned that their lives were not great due to constraints in their bodies and they wanted to do something about it.

Now we find that each one of them wishes they had considered yoga years ago but were put off, (see above).

I say in my yoga classes that the most challenging part of yoga is rolling out the mat and committing your mind and body to start a practice. The asanas (postures) and movements are relatively easy, with a good teacher and working with the unique body we have, we will reap the full benefits that yoga provides, right from day one.

It isn’t about achieving the extreme yoga postures we see in pictures on Facebook or in the magazines, what makes these postures the right representation of yoga? Also, the individuals achieving the postures are biomechanically and anatomically different to you and me.

The key is to get pose into the body and not the body into the pose, if this is our intention we will be able to really engage our mind and breath into the practice - essentially what differentiates yoga from other forms of sport or exercise and what makes it so rewarding.

So please don’t be put off if are considering yoga but still unsure, perhaps talk to a yogi or teacher about their own experience and allow them to clarify and inform. After all..

“Every accomplishment begins with the decision to try”

Look forward to seeing you on the mat.

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