Happy? Go do some yoga!

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When I first wrote a blog a while back about how we feel about ourselves when we look in a mirror, I never expected I would write a Part 2, but there were a couple of moments that compelled me to write a follow up after another reflective time I experienced at yoga recently.

Again like the blog before, I felt the need to do some yoga after feeling a bit down and disjointed. So, I scrambled around in the bottom of my wardrobe for some appropriate gear, got in the car and started to drive, switching on the radio to break the silence as I headed to the yoga studio. I began to listen to BBC Radio London.

They were talking about what people do to feel happy when things are not going right in your life, in other words;

What’s your go-to when you need a pep-up? Some people drink, some people eat and some people go to the gym or do other things to get to that go-to.

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When I go to the gym it helps a lot to get to a kind of go-to, but when I really need to feel seriously clicked into a good mood, nothing for me beats a spot of hot yoga.

It’s taken a while for me to realise that this is my go-to. But going always helps to give my mind the mental gym it so needs and is almost instant in lifting my mood and spirits.

This is also what happened while looking in the mirror in the yoga studio. I felt awesome and strong, as if I’d found a new type of religion. It felt comforting, soothing and enlightening. Almost like an epiphany type of experience.

I could see a reflection of myself who was someone totally different to the person I saw in the mirror a while back. This time I happily found myself smiling when I fell out of postures and when I struggled to do anything, I dug deep inside to find a strength I never knew I had.

Falling out of postures and the difficulty I have been encountering with this recently in yoga has really tested my resilience of late, but in this session I didn’t stress too much. I rested when I needed to and for the first time in ages it felt absolutely fine just to do that.

With over a year of doing Hot Bikram yoga under my belt, I’m at the stage where at times the sessions feels like I’ve hit the proverbial wall. Indeed my mojo often keeps parking itself in despondent city.

But during this session I kept on telling myself, ‘You can do this’.

Then it happened … The click I needed got me to the end of the class without too much stress or calamity. In other words; the serotonin levels kicked in and the good vibes began to flow.

Afterwards my yoga teacher applauded and hugged me and was in extreme praise of how hard I had worked. It all felt amazing! https://bebrainfit.com/mental-health-benefits-yoga

Perhaps I’m exaggerating when I compare yoga to a type of religion, but I’m glad I had a bit more of fulfilling time than my mother’s experiences at the local church she attended recently, the one that she goes to on a regular basis.

Unfortunately she didn’t feel remotely near to any of the feelings I’ve just described. This is despite going here for over ten years, saying hello to people and adapting a friendly  and open approach when there. She still rarely finds they are reciprocal in her approach. Indeed after the service, she left feeling isolated, lonely and sad at a time when she was hoping divine intervention would have lifted her mood.

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I guess what I’m trying to say is that whatever makes you happy, do it. Whatever your ‘go-to‘ is, use it to help you get through the down times.

However, if your goto doesn’t work every time, try something else as well. You need a back up. My mother has discovered that she uses going for regular walks as her back up go-to when she needs a mood lift. 

I’m also encouraging her to get up go and find a new church for her go-to. The current one she attends is quite clearly failing in its doctrine of welcoming everyone with kindness and love.

So enjoy your journey to happiness and wherever you may find it, get going to your goto fast!

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Namaste    

Yoga:What’s your mirror image saying?

 

mirror-983427_1280It’s hard to look at yourself; I mean REALLY look at yourself. However twice a week this is what I do when I pitch up to do some Hot Bikram Yoga.

Sometimes the mirror image I see under these circumstances is really difficult to face. I often scrutinise the big belly I have, or even in a yoga studio full of men and women, I’m always convinced I stand out as being the only one who isn’t flexible enough; or even if I match up to the other yogis and their brilliant yoga poses.

Last week was one of those moments. Everything I did in the class felt wrong. I was hard on myself and it hurt. No; it wasn’t so much a physical hurt, it was a mental hurt. I went into the class feeling really disjointed and emotional.

It was no big surprise as I couldn’t kick away the dark moment I was feeling when I woke up that morning. I didn’t know what to do for the best or how to feel better, so I ended up going to do some yoga.

My negative inner voice in the class just wouldn’t shut up though. It kept going into overdrive;

“What the hell are you doing? Go home, you shouldn’t be here. There’s no point, YOU’RE USELESS!”

It was hard but I managed to stay right to the very end. I was determined to see it through.

My yoga teacher could see my inner turmoil messing with my head and her voice was comforting, soothing and nurturing.

As the class ended, I lay on my mat in Savasana and that was when the tears started to fall. I hid my head behind my towel and cried. No wonder they say this is one of the hardest postures to do! All you need to do is just lie still and do nothing. It’s not as easy as it seems.

The studio eventually became empty and I lay there sobbing. That was when my yoga teacher spotted me.

“I knew I shouldn’t have come; a friend of mine passed away recently and I went to her funeral just a few days ago. I’m feeling far too raw. I thought that if I came here I’d be able to sort my head out, but I’ve made myself feel worse.”

I tried to explain myself to her through the tears that were now refusing to stop falling. I sounded ridiculous and pathetic.

She gave me a hug, held my hand and said;

“I’m so sorry for your loss. Sometimes yoga is just what you need. The fact that you turned up and didn’t leave meant you were supposed to be here. The warmth that you get from the studio is a literal and healing thing.”

I’m often a real cynic about the yoga I do. When I look in the mirror I see someone who is chubby, clumsy and awkward. I fall out of postures often and at times I wonder what benefit I am getting out of it all.

But for the first time someone saw me in a different way in comparison to the person I saw in the mirror. My yoga teacher saw that I needed to be there in the studio and the yoga I had just completed aided me to arrive at a crucial stage in my day. It gave me the ability to really let go, cry and begin to grieve for my friend.

I have in the past experienced some yoga teachers who can come across as being disconnected from their students. They are quick to give you sarcastic comments when you rush into a class late; or decide to give you some soul destroying comment when they think you’re not trying hard enough. It’s hard for them to realise that we all come into the studio with differing issues we’re trying to leave at the door.

I am truly blessed that my yoga teacher on that day wasn’t like that. She saw way beyond the postures I was doing and helped me through the tears. She was intuitive, kind and incredibly understanding. Yoga teachers like her can truly reach out to you in ways that are far more beneficial to your body and mind than perfecting a particular posture or breathing in a certain way.

Every now and then THEY WILL give you a hug and REALLY see the person staring back at you in the mirror. THEY WILL SEE YOU as someone of real worth and value. They can give you the reassurance that to just turn up to a class is enough and when the class ends, they don’t mind if you have a cry afterwards because they will sometimes comfort you when you really need it!

So, who do you really see staring back at you in a yoga studio? Are you being too hard on yourself when you can’t do a particular posture? If this is the case, you need to remember;

It’s only Yoga … but you never know what you might experience in a class.

 

 

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Namaste!

(Copyright: Steph Js 2017)

This Blog is dedicated VP who passed away on the 22nd January 2017. RIP my friend. x 

Yoga, 5 Reasons to do it!

giphy-1.gif.gifYou have your Kundalini, Ashtanga or even my personal favourite, Bikram or Hot Yoga. There are hundreds of different types of yoga out there, all of them are designed to do everything from aligning your chakras, to creating a more relaxed and chilled out person in all of us.

Here are five fabulous reasons to do yoga

1.     It helps to keep you limber in the gym:

If you’re a gym bunny you may find that overtraining can cause your muscles to become tired and extremely stiff when performing repetitive moves all the time. If you sprinkle in a yoga session once or twice a week, it helps to loosen up your joints allowing them to become more flexible again.

 2.     Your hair and skin will benefit from regular practice:

When I first started doing Bikram (Hot) Yoga I thought that as a black woman, my hair would suffer from the constant sweating and frizziness. Far from it!

Yoga has made my hair grow and my skin glow!

Remember to slip on a scarf before each session. It will stop your hair from getting too sweaty and in the way when you’re trying to do a posture.

3.     Regular practice will enhance your bedtime sleep:

According to Dr Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist and writer of Psychology Today, regular yoga practice can help with insomnia.

He quotes that;

“[Studies indicate] yoga can help improve sleep among people with chronic insomnia.”

So if you can’t sleep, try learning the child’s pose in yoga or other relaxing moves and you’ll soon be sleeping like a baby.

4.     It can lift your mood and help alleviate symptoms of depression

I know that when I’m feeling tense and a bit down, I benefit immensely from a session of yoga. Within a few minutes of practising, I can feel my mood lifting and an instant feeling of euphoria.

This is because yoga can increase your serotonin levels, the stuff that affects your mood and brain function.  I know it certainly fires up my serotonin and brings back the good vibes in my life! Check out the website healthline.com for the ‘science bit’ on how Yoga can help to combat depression. http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/yoga-therapy#Overview1 

5.     Yoga can tone and strengthen muscles in a similar way to weight training with less impact on your joints

The Triangle Pose and Plank Pose are two of my favourite postures for toning your abs and strengthening your core.

With regular practice of yoga, I’ve seen my body tone up in a gentler way than, pumping iron all the time. Many types of yoga postures are designed to tone and shape up your body, depending on which one you choose to do.

When you do hot yoga you’ll find your limbs will become supple and your joints are much more likely to stretch naturally.

So, now you know, find a cosy space or studio and do some yoga NOW!

References:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleep-newzzz/201210/yoga-can-help-insomnia

http://www.dreams.co.uk/sleep-matters-club/how-to-use-yoga-to-help-you-get-a-good-nights-sleep/

Copyright: Steph S. 2016

A Hot Yoga Poem

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Forgive me Inner hot Yogi Self, for I have sinned…

It is three months since I graced the presence of your company and felt the warmth of the forty degree ray of heat healing my body.

I long to feel my joints stretch into submission and relax once more; rather than the stiffness of my knees, cracking like twigs in sympathy with the coldness of the weather.

I miss the 26 postures and even the familiar way that the yoga teachers describe the postures in strange and funny ways.

Like the teacher who says “Time to get rid of your wind!” or the one who dares you to smile and not take it all so seriously.

I want to go back. To a time when I slept like a baby at bedtime and woke only when daybreak came; entering a new challenge, a new day or a life centered and with purpose.

It seems like such a long time ago when I was in a crowded room in what seems like a million sweaty bodies, all working to find the pinnacle of enlightenment in a ninety minute meltdown.

But I don’t miss the sweaty bodies though, just the camaraderie of it all!

Will I be forgiven when I go back?

For I have given into the laziness of winter. It is constantly luring me to sit and vegetate in front of the television.

I find myself watching it hypnotically, as my thighs and stomach spread largely due to the overexertion of eating…

And will I receive a critical eye from the yoga teacher as I slip into the back of the room, hoping that no one can feel the guilt I feel at having left you for what seems an eternity?

The answer dear hot yogi self is no.

All thoughts of negativity are left at the door.
Just come back quickly, get there when you can.

Roll out your mat with PRIDE and take your place WITH confidence.
For in the yoga world, there is no judgement or noise, or song and dance because you didn’t come back sooner…

Just a warm enveloping heat, with plenty of smiles.

And some peace and harmony once more.

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How to survive the 30 Day Hot Yoga Challenge: 5 Tips

Get hot on the floor!

Some weeks had passed since beginning this hot yoga malarkey that is Bikram yoga. I hadn’t ditched it for something else, which for me meant I was going to stay with it for a while. 

Then something happened. Perhaps the heat had begun to pickle my brain, but I was convinced by the lovely woman on the front desk to sign up for a 30 day yoga challenge.

What is a 30 Day Challenge?

This is when for 30 days you pitch up and burn up; EVERYDAY!

A lot of hot yoga studios do them as a way to get you to start honing in on your craft in finer detail. On that note; here is tip number one.

Tip 1: WAIT!

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I know this sounds contradictory, but wait. Try not to sign up for a Hot Yoga challenge like this until you’ve got a couple of classes under your belt. If you don’t know what to expect in a class, you may set yourself up fail. Try to look out for open days or special offers such as Groupon offering free lessons or sessions at discounted prices.

Check out this link for a discounted hot yoga session:

https://www.groupon.co.uk/deals/fitness-fusions-11

And this link is a hot yoga studio called HOT YOGA SOUTH that I often use in Balham, London. They have open days where you can do a FREE hot yoga session.

http://hotyogasouth.com/

So, I began my 30 day sweat fest with gusto. I felt like the Uma Thurman character in Kill Bill 2, who was attentive, dedicated and determined to take on everything the sensei threw at her!

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I tried really hard to be a good student. Pitching up to sweat it out big style, wasn’t easy. It was like I was a broken dripping tap in need of fixing and desperate to absorb every piece of knowledge my ‘sensei’ (or rather my Bikram Yoga  Teachers) imparted on me in a quest to get through the next 30 days.

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I loved feeling that the sweating was doing me some good. But I wasn’t at all as elegant as this when holding postures! 

… But very soon I began to feel weary and extremely tired, realising I couldn’t keep up with what others in the class were doing. Their progress seemed more rapid than mine. It made me feel extremely despondent…

… But by about week two, I was almost able to get through a whole class without keeling over!

Tip 2: Don’t compare yourself to others, it will be your downfall.

There will be plenty of people in a class who have lots of differing experiences, injuries or reasons why they are doing hot yoga. Some will have been going for years, some who will be there for the first time; or even some coming back to  yoga after a break. However you shouldn’t use anyone as your template on how things should be done in a class, instead follow the teacher and listen to the dialogue. Most yoga instructors are astute enough to see if you’re not quite there on a posture and will give you the correct guidance on HOW TO MAKE A POSTURE WORK FOR YOU

The Lesser spotted BGDY!

During my 30 day challenge, I encountered a kind of fist bump moment when I saw another BGDY (Black Girl Doing Yoga). She was a first timer that day and before the class began she had to get up to move towards the last two rows in the studio.

Now, anyone who knows their black history would have felt a bit funny when asked to move to the back. Thoughts of Rosa Parks not being allowed to sit at the front of a bus comes mind, but this woman dealt with the newbie thing with great aplomb!  

No one had told her the front rows are for people who have been coming for a while. They say it’s so that you can follow them as a guide on how to do the postures correctly. I think it’s more reserved for the ‘show-offs’ who like to wriggle their bottoms in front of you in a way that says; I’m bendier than you”.

I don’t see why you can’t sit anywhere, especially as our greatest examples at the front can have days when they’ve been some of the worst yogis I’ve ever seen, stumbling around like some drunk in need of a drink on the front row. 

However this woman proceeded over to the back row, in such a cool way that only a way a BGDY could pull off; that was to kiss her teeth, swing her mat over her shoulder and as she turned around, she swiped the whole of the front row with her mat on their heads; teacher included!   

As she glided past, we both nodded to each other and in acknowledgement of her ‘high five’ moment of celebration. 

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Tip 3:  YOU are the best guide to KNOW if your session is working or not.

I’ve since then thought about the absurdity of this stupid protocol of following the people in the front row and I soon realised that the best person to look at in a hot yoga session is yourself.

It tells you a lot about how you’re coping within a position. It’s ALSO easier to follow the class anyway usually from any angle or point in a studio because there’s always so many flipping mirrors everywhere! 

Tip 4: Hair frizz = Get some cover, FAST!!

A 30 day challenge in maths terms equates to four weeks and two days of big time hair frizz! If you want to avoid the frizz or the flapping about of sweaty hair in your face then; wear a scarf to try to absorb some of the sweat.

Have a look at this link for some more tips: http://www.blackwomenshealth.com/blog/workout-stay-fit-and-still-have-great-healthy-hair/

Make you don’t go for a cotton scarf though. For the same reason a cotton top or leggings WILL completely saturate sweat, so will a cotton headscarf.  

stock-vector-crying-baby-girl-crying-small-child-vector-cartoon-illustration-of-cute-crying-baby-girl-518569871And Another thing…I know it’s tempting but try not to wash your hair in the yoga studio showers. I did this once at my peril and I nearly ended up crying when my hair became so knotted due to the water pressure being so poor!  

Tip 5:

If you’re doing Bikram Yoga, the breathing you do is through your nose, except for the warm up and at the end. It’s CRUCIAL that you try and learn how to do this type of breathing, rather than opening your mouth. Keep your eyes open too. If you try to breathe in a different way to how you are instructed, you may find you will use up excess energy and feel dizzy as a result. 

If at any at stage in a hot yoga session you are overwhelmed by the heat, lie down rather than trying to bolt out of the studio. It’s harder to come back in if you leave and the heat will seem worse. I’ve learnt this from the instructors and (SO FAR!!) I’ve never had to run in fear of it all.

For energy before, during and after a session it’s important to drink plenty of water. I also find if I drop an electrolyte tablet into my water bottle helps to replace lost salts from sweating. These are the ones they use a lot in most yoga studios.

http://totalhydration.uk/high5-zero-electrolyte-drinks-tablets-20-tablets-per-tube/

Finally:

If you don’t manage to complete the whole 30 Days, it’s not the end of the world. The fact that you’ve started your yoga journey is the most important thing and the first step towards a calmer, flexible and more braver you.  

Namaste!

SjSx

 

Copyright: SJS 2016

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Hot Yoga: Are you up for it?

Just an ordinary Black Girl Doing Hot Yoga (Thoughts from a Black Girl’s Diary)

This blog is about yoga & in particular Bikram Yoga, the yoga I prefer to do. But it won’t just contain pictures of enormously bendy women or men practising their Triangle Poses, in a setting that looks like Nirvana. Nor, will it go in the opposite direction to focus solely on the larger lady or man practising yoga either. Both have their equal place in the yoga world & I’m not knocking that.

It’s about me; an ordinary BGDB (Black Girl Doing Bikram) & (sometimes the guys!) that find ourselves taking a step to drip the sweat.

I’m unfortunately (still) a rare breed in an almost elitist milieu; a black, slightly chubby, middle-aged woman. I was brought up on a council estate in South London & at 5ft 2 inches; I’m a real shorty. Hardly anything like the girls (& guys) I Bikram with, who are often ‘Made in Chelsea’, upper class to middle class & TBYB’s (Typically Bony Yoga Bunnies). Boo hoo…NOT!!!!

So, why did I choose Bikram (Hot Yoga)?

I’ve done many different types of yoga over the years & after a class I would be thinking, ‘That was a load of pretentious rubbish!’

“I don’t like the idea of suffering to do yoga.”

There’s always been a feeling in these places that you have be dedicated to the point of having to chomp on Quinoa all the time in a bid to ‘Cut the Carbs!’ or chant until enlightenment drops in your lap; or have a fair bit of money to fund your trendy, cool habit. Throw in a heady mix of TBYB’s, a posh studio in the heart of Wimbledon or Richmond and you’re almost there. You know the type of person I’m talking about? She’s called ‘Annabelle’, talks loudly ‘Yah, Yahing’ in the changing rooms & on her top of the range iphone about going on retreats to find herself in the South of France. (Very Ab Fab!) Stereotyping? Yes I am, but for real! These are mostly the people I encounter on my yoga travels.

Originally, I’ve always felt that yoga is just not for me. After all, I’m a black woman who regularly uses a relaxer to straighten her hair! Us gals don’t deal with the frizz thing. In fact I fear the wrath of my hairdresser if she saw the state my hair gets into after a 40 degree rinse in a sweat drenched studio, almost as much as I fear the West Indian tones of my mum cussing me out when she disapproves of anything I do!

My Bikram experience began in a familiar way that many encounter this strange type of yoga; after an injury. I had the unfortunate luck to have been injured at work. It left me with the mental injury of depression & anxiety, while the physical injury gave me torn ligaments in my shoulder & right thumb.

I needed something fast. The pain killers had stopped working, the physio was not free anymore (The NHS had written me off) & I was paying for a physiotherapist who was almost on the brink of writing me off too.

“Why don’t you try Bikram yoga? The heat might help.” I laughed at his ridiculous suggestion!

“How could bending yourself into inane positions help to heal torn ligaments? More to the point; what the bloody hell is Bikram Yoga anyway?”

That evening I decided to part from my physiotherapist. Although I had around 20 sessions with him, I still felt like a doll that had only been partially fixed. I couldn’t afford to go anymore. There had to be something else. I Googled Bikram Yoga on my laptop. I was feeling broke (literally) and incredibly depressed.

My First Class

You will always remember your first time. Mine was with a teacher called Mel who had a smile to match her temperament.

“We were all packed sardine-like into a reasonably sized studio. (Sorry about the Top Gear reference!)”

I tried to ‘style it out’ & pretend I was a regular, rolling out my own mat (Not using theirs) & towel whilst lying casually on the floor. But then she said the words that point you out as being different from the start. 

“Anyone here for the first time?”

Tentatively I raised my hand in the air. There were several of us newbie’s in that night & we were all cheerily told to take it easy. I didn’t really notice the heat much in that 90 minute cook up, but I did notice that I was the only BGDB in the room.

Over to you!!

Are you a person that does yoga? Or even an ordinary Black Girl Doing Bikram Yoga too? I want to hear from you all!

Let me know what you think of my thoughts.

Namaste!!

SjS X