Posts tagged wellness
Yoga...But Which Yoga?!

You’ve decided to take up yoga. Your work colleague, other half, sibling, favourite musician, favourite surfer, favourite sports player and Oprah are all blabbering on about how its changed their lives. So you go online and look to book into a class…but which one?! How many different ways can a person possibly stretch and meditate?! And is it better to be revitalised or grounded?!

It’s tricky. And that’s why here I’ll be looking to a) give some information on the different schools of yoga, and b) simplify things so you can get on with doing something positive for your body and mind. I’ve also included guides to pronunciation of each yoga style. Some words I’ll reference that you mightn’t have come across before are;

  • Asana - the physical practice of yoga that we spend most of our time in western studios working on (yoga being the overarching mental, physical and philosophical practice)

  • Pranayama - the practice of mindful breathing exercises

  • Sanskrit - the language of ancient and medieval India

  • Props - any object used in a class to provide extra physical support or assistance for a student (eg: straps, blocks, bolsters etc)

1. Hatha (HA-THA)

One of the most ancient forms of yoga referenced, and one that could be said to incorporate all other schools of yoga. Translateable as meaning either ‘forceful’ or ‘wilful’ or a combination of “ha”, meaning sun, and “tha”, meaning moon; a fitting translation for a school of yoga focused on the idea of balance.
In modern yoga studios, a hatha class will generally focus on mindful breathing, long asana holds, meditation and a slow, gentle practice. Generally the class that is recommended for beginners, this is still a practice that will equally benefit the more seasoned yogi amongst us.
Summary: Hatha is the Ikea of yoga.

2. Ashtanga (ASH-TANGA)

Ashtanga Primary Series

Ashtanga Primary Series

A school of yoga developed by Sri T. Krishnamcharya in the early 20th century, popularised by K. Pattabhi Jois and subsequently his grandson Sharath Jois. Ashtanga translates from Sanskrit as “Eight-limbed”. Asana practice is only one of the eight facets of this school, along with pranayama, yama (rules of moral code), niyama (rules of personal behaviour), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (complete integration).
Ashtanga is comprised of a set routine, drawn from one of six different series depending on how advanced the practitioner is. Postures are moved through in a predetermined order with a set number of breaths.
In studios, Ashtanga is taught in one of two ways; ‘lead’ (with the teacher guiding and counting you through the practice) or ‘Mysore’ (pronounced ‘my-sore’ - where the student moves through the postures at their own speed and breath with the teacher only providing adjustments). As students progress, they may move from practicing ‘primary’ to ‘intermediate’ and then on to the four advanced series. It is a school of yoga generally viewed as being more physically demanding than many others.
Summary: Ashtanga is for hyperactive control freaks.

3. Yin (REALLY?!)

Supported twist using a block and bolster to encourage relaxation and release. And a nice nap.

Supported twist using a block and bolster to encourage relaxation and release. And a nice nap.

A more modern style of yoga formulated in the 1970s by Paulie Zink, yin yoga is a discipline involving comparatively long holds of postures. Taking its name from Taoist philosophy, yin is focused on passivity, stillness and gentleness. On the opposite end of the spectrum to the likes of vinyasa yoga, postures are held from anywhere between 45 second to 5 minutes or more.
Don’t be fooled, though! Although in yin, use of props is encouraged and postures don’t tend to be held as deeply (at least initially), the ability to hold a pose for such a length of time and maintain stillness of mind and body can be incredibly challenging (and rewarding!).
Summary: Yin is for human slugs and people who are literally asleep.

4. Vinyasa (VIN-YAH-SA)

Taking its name from ashtanga yoga (the phrase ‘vinyasa’ referring to the flow of postures used to transition between poses), vinyasa is a modern offshoot of ashtanga involving many of the same postures from the six series. Unlike ashtanga yoga, however, postures are generally not held for any great length of time and more emphasis is placed on the flow from posture to posture. As well as this, there is no pre-determined sequence of postures that are moved through.
In most yoga studios, vinyasa yoga is taught accompanied by fast-paced, modern music (I’ve never sounded so middle aged…), making it a very mentally accessible style for newcomers (though standards can vary greatly, so be sure to check in advance!). Given that emphasis is placed on movement, however, it can also be a demanding cardio workout.
Summary: Vinyasa is sort of like the Mumford & Sons of the yoga world.

5. Iyengar (EYE-YEN-GAR)

Shoulder stand making use of straps and blocks

Shoulder stand making use of straps and blocks

A school of yoga developed by another student of Sri T. Krishnamcharya, Iyengar is named after its founder B.K.S Iyengar who formulated the practice in the 1960s. Iyengar yoga is a style predominately focused on the combination of breath and asana practice, with great emphasis placed on correct alignment. Although perhaps lacking in a sense of flow that is present in other styles of yoga, Iyengar is a great option for understanding all the most subtle intricacies involved in physical postures.
When you decide to attend your first Iyengar yoga class, expect extensive use of props. This can involve anything from blocks, bolsters, straps, mats and everything in between. (Think 50 Shades of Grey but without any sex or the complete waste of paper it’s printed on) The tweaks to your physical practice gleaned from this discipline can be extremely helpful when applied to other styles of yoga class.
Summary: Iyengar is for fetishists and Mums who say “Stop slouching"!”

6. Kundalini (KUN-DAH-LEE-NEE)

“Steve, we’re in the middle of Sainsburys! Put your chakras away!”

“Steve, we’re in the middle of Sainsburys! Put your chakras away!”

Kundalini yoga, as we now know it, is a combination of many traditions which include hatha yoga techniques (such as bandha, pranayama, and asana), Patañjali's kriya yoga (consisting of self-discipline, self-study, and devotion to God), tantric visualisation and meditation techniques of laya yoga, amongst others. All of these techniques are concerned with the ‘awakening of Kundalini’ - a spiritual energy or life force located at the base of the spine. The practice of Kundalini yoga aims to arouse the sleeping ‘Kundalini Shakti’ from its coiled base through the 6 chakras, and penetrate the 7th chakra - crown of the head (This all sounds a bit ‘Ananconda’ - Jennifer Lopez & Ice Cube’s critically acclaimed 1997 masterpiece) . This practice was brought to the west and popularised by Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, or Yogi Bhajan, in the 60s. Although the integrity of the original teachings was disputed by teachers and scholars in India (traditional Kundalini yoga would have demanded renunciation of sensual pleasures and material possessions etc), the style of Kundalini devised by Bhajan became popular in the counterculture of 60s America and quickly spread.
In a Kundalini yoga class you can expect hatha style asana practice, chanting, pranayama and meditation practice. While perhaps demanding more of an open mind in our more secular, sceptical society (eg: “You’re mental!” or “There’s no such thing as ghosts!”), Kundalini practitioners will speak highly of the transcendental journey towards enlightenment that is the goal of the practice.
Summary: Kundalini is for people who want to release their inner trouser snake.

7. Jivamukti (JEE-VAH-MUK-TEE)

Jivamukti is a school of yoga developed by David Life and Sharon Gannon in the mid 1980s. Students originally of Sivinanda yoga, Life and Gannon established their Jivamukti Yoga Society in New York upon their return from study in India. Comprised of two Sanskrit words, jiva - meaning the living soul, and mukti - meaning liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, Jivamukti in essence translates as “liberation while living”. The discipline is founded on five central tenets - Shastra (scripture), Bhakti (devotion), Ahimsa (non-violence), Nada (music) and Dhyana (meditation). Animal rights, veganism and environmentalism are also core principles of this style of yoga. (Why can’t just one of these schools be based on hot chocolate or…I don’t know…foot rubs?!)
Asana practice in the form of vinyasa yoga is a core element of a standard Jivamukti class, together with Sanskrit chanting, music, exploration of the relevance of yogic scripture on modern life, pranayama and meditation.
Summary: Jivamukti is for Gwyneth Paltrow and people who buy those baggy elephant print trousers when they go on their first long distance holiday.

8. Bikram (BIK-RAM)

Bikram Choudhury - the sort of guy you could see yourself going for a pint with.

Bikram Choudhury - the sort of guy you could see yourself going for a pint with.

Bikram yoga was devised by Bikram Choudhury in the early 1970s. Exploding in popularity in the mid 2000s, this style of yoga was somewhat tarnished as its founder became embroiled in accusations of sexual harassment (literal quote: "Why would I have to harass women? People spend one million dollars for a drop of my sperm!"), sexual assault, false imprisonment, bullying, and fraud (to name but a few!) Choudhury subsequently fled to India when an arrest warrant was issued by an LA judge. At its height, there were 1,650 Bikram studios worldwide. There are now less than 1,000.
Bikram is a style of yoga involving 26 sequenced postures practiced in a room at 35-42C degrees for 90 minutes. It is often claimed that the increased heat encourages sweating so as to aid in the release of toxins* from the body and a deepening of the physical practice. Competition is also encouraged in Bikram yoga, with the Yoga Asana Championships taking placing regionally and nationally in many countries.
Note: I’ve done my best with this list to try and maintain a neutral tone when describing the various schools of yoga so as to avoid encouraging prejudice in the reader. Here, however, I feel it would be remiss of me not to voice my discouragement of the practice of Bikram yoga. This could well form the basis of a future article, however feel free to get in touch if you’d like a more immediate explanation!
* A word I would suggest be stricken from the English language!
Summary: Bikram is for people who enjoy self-flagellating in Speedos.

9. Forrest (FOREST)

Forrest yoga was devised by Ana Forrest in 1975. Based on a synthesis of hatha, vinyasa, sivinanda and iyengar, the practice aims to connect its students with their feelings and emotions in an effort to work through physical and emotional trauma. Forrest is based on four principles, known as ‘pillars’: Breath, Strength, Integrity and Spirit. Students are encouraged to ‘breathe’ into areas deemed to be energetically stagnant, blocked or physically tight.
Forrest classes take place in a heated room of 25C degrees and generally begin with a pranayama practice, before moving on to more dynamic poses. Although, as mentioned, the asana practiced in Forrest yoga are drawn from other schools, there are also a number unique to this school. Further to this, many poses are adjusted to suit our western physicality and needs (no, a cheese plate is not a ‘need’), as well as being more neutral and protective of areas such as the neck or knees (in contrast to practices such as Ashtanga).
Summary: Forrest is for people who have lungs in their knees.

10. Sivananda (SIEVE-AH-NAN-DA)

The twelve postures of Sivananda (also - little known fact - the origins of breakdance)

The twelve postures of Sivananda (also - little known fact - the origins of breakdance)

Sivananda is a school of yoga brought to the west in the late 1950s by Swami Vishnudevananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda after whom the practice is named. Vishnudevananda based Sivananda yoga on five basic principles: proper exercise (asana), proper breathing (pranayama), proper relaxation (savasana), proper diet (vegetarian), positive thinking (vedanta) and meditation (dhyana). The practice is limited to only twelve central poses, each selected to ensure a rounded physical practice is completed - inversions, backbends, forward bends, twists, balances, and hamstring stretches. As the practitioner becomes more advanced, variations on these poses are then offered.
As per Ashtanga and Bikram, in a standard Sivananda class the student can expect the class to follow a relatively rigid format; savasana, pranayama, the twelve asanas and savasana once more. The class will also often begin and end with mantras chanted. The idea behind the limited number of asana postures is that the student carefully and methodically works through and engages deeply with each posture, facilitating a stillness of the mind through familiarity and repetition.
Summary: Sivananda is for people who like to eat their Weetabix dry. While chanting.

11. Rocket (ROCKET)

Rocket yoga is a style of practice developed by Larry Schultz in San Francisco in the 1980s. Schultz, previously a dedicated ashtanga student of K. Pattabhi Jois, drew from primary, intermediate and the third and fourth advanced series to form its own unique format. The name ‘Rocket’ was introduced when Bob Weir of The Naked Dead said of the practice that “It gets you there faster!”. Unlike Ashtanga yoga, students are encouraged to make any adjustments to poses that they feel suit their body or desired practice, known as “The Art Of Modification”. Although a style of yoga more popular in American yoga circles, Rocket is beginning to appear on an increasing number of UK and European studio schedules.
As per Ashtanga, from which the practice is drawn, a Rocket class tends to be strenuous. For those who are keen to work towards balances, inversions and hanstands - this is the class for you!
Summary: Sting practices Rocket. Make of that what you will.

12. Pilates (PEE-LAH-TAYS)

Say what you will, but I wouldn’t want my mum walking in on  that .

Say what you will, but I wouldn’t want my mum walking in on that.

Although not a school of yoga, I wanted to include a description of Pilates and the ways in which it differs from yoga. Pilates was formulated by Joseph Pilates, a German immigrant who moved to the UK. Always fascinated by physical wellbeing to the point of personal obsession, Pilates was interred on the Isle of Man during WWI as a German ‘enemy alien’. It was here he began to experiment by placing springs into hospital beds to enable wounded inmates to physically recuperate while still bed-bound. His method became famous amongst dancers in New York, where he established his first studio, for being effective at preventing recurring injuries.
A first time student of Pilates will find a number of noticeable differences to yoga - use of repetition in targeted exercises, no standing postures, use of specific Pilates machines known as ‘aparatus’, less focus on flexibility and a complete absence of spirituality and meditation.
Summary: This guy sounds cool, but who was the first person who came to his class and was all “Yeah sure, strap me to that moving bed!”?

13. Goat (BAAAH)

This looks like the opposite of something that is fun.

This looks like the opposite of something that is fun.

It’s yoga, but with goats.
Carolyn Cowan, a yoga instructor from London (of course she is), says: “Having to work harder with a creature moving on your back is actually probably really good for your core (It’s probably really not). And, I think the amount of laughter has to be really good for your core, too. I think, overall, I’d look on it as a fabulous adventure.”
I think it’s time you got on Tinder, Carolyn.
Summary: For people who like goats. And injuries.

Hopefully this guide has helped clear up the maze of options open to you as a potential yoga student. Just remember: every yoga teacher will do their best to make newbies feel comfortable, no student in a class has any interest in what anyone else is doing and everybody has had to be the wobbly, confused person at some stage!

Got any tips for newbies? Any hilarious stories from your introduction to yoga? Make sure to ask questions or give feedback in the comments section below!

How to make SAD not so bad
2018-03-22 02.54.34 1.jpg

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues” is something many of us have been unfortunate enough to experience. With shorter days, lower levels of sunshine and colder weather, our body and minds want to curl up and hibernate…but we’re not allowed to, are we? We’re expected to keep rocking up to work on time and working until the sun’s divebombed back below the horizon.

As somebody who manages low mood year round, and especially over the winter months, below are ten simple tips I’ve found have worked wonders for me…

1. Light alarm clock

Yep. This is one of those rare times you’ll hear me say technology might just change your life for the better. When it comes to sleep, we think of time spent sleeping, quality of sleep etc, but have you ever considered how you wake up? I know I hadn’t.

Consider this: it’s 7am, still pitch dark and you’re in deep REM, mid-dream. Then, BAM! There goes your (probably phone!) alarm. Would you wake up someone you didn’t hate by blasting tinny noises in their ears? No. So why do you do it to yourself?

Check out Phillips and Lumie light alarm clocks. Ranging from £30-£250, you can get yourself an alarm clock that will very gradually brighten your room over the course of (usually) half an hour. The idea is that by the time it very gently begins making some relaxing sounds, you’re already, or very nearly, awake. You know how an awful start to a morning can sometimes set your day up to be a disaster? Do yourself a favour and start your morning right.

2. SAD Lamp

Disclaimer: SAD lamps don’t whisper sweet nothings in your ear

Disclaimer: SAD lamps don’t whisper sweet nothings in your ear

As much as we like to pretend otherwise, we’re animals. Mammals, to be precise. In most species of mammal, even those who don’t hibernate, activity is markedly slowed during the winter months. This is caused by a reduction in sunlight available (and historically, with less food around, would have been a handy instinct), which in turn causes our circadian rhythm (sleep pattern related to light & dark) to adjust accordingly. The problem is these days we’re still expected to rock up at the office at 8am and not club Brian from accounts with a stick…

This is where an SAD lamp comes in. Providing us with a similar dose of light to a bright summer’s morning, it tells our body to shut off melatonin production and get going. Grab yourself one of these babies and eat your porridge in front of it (or even bring it into the office with you!)

3. Hydration

No, Karen. That’s just a jug of fruit and gin.

No, Karen. That’s just a jug of fruit and gin.

Drink water. You don’t need telling, do you? It’s easy to forget though, especially in winter when you don’t feel you need it as much…which is why we often end up dehydrated and sluggish. If we aren’t properly hydrated, our organs can’t function to their full potential. Our digestion, blood flow, brain capacity and toxin filtering are all adversely affected. Any surprise, then, that you feel like napping at your desk?

So how to make drinking water more appealing? Try buying a reusable bottle or thermos you like the look or feel of. Bring it around with you, sit it on your desk etc. Fill it with nice things like slices of ginger, cucumber, lemon/lime, tumeric etc. The upside of all this water drunk will be an increase in the number of toilet breaks you take…which means more energising mental mini-breaks (and less time at your desk…)

4. Exercise

As mentioned above, the body will want to descend into a state of semi-hibernation through winter. All well and good if we’re eating less, sleeping more and generally taking it easy…but we’re not. Less exercise means less mood-boosting endorphins being released, lower quality sleep and more pounds piling on…all of which make for a grumpier hu-mammal.

Consider walking or cycling to work when the weather permits (or buy the gear so it always permits!). Start an exercise routine - yoga, jogging, gym, a social sport. If you choose a solo sport, consider convincing a friend to join your routine - it always helps when you know you have someone waiting on you.

5. Diet

Here’s where that old caveman (caveperson?) instinct does us a solid disservice again. Remember how food would be less available around now? Well your inner caveman Brian (Bertha?) would’ve smashed whatever berry, bison or biscuit he came across. It’s not summer anymore, is it Brian? Hobnobs no longer grow on trees.

Again, you know you shouldn’t eat rubbish food. Right? So how do we help ourselves out? Simple answer: don’t fill your cupboards with it. If it’s not there, you won’t eat it.

  • Have a bar of dark chocolate in your cupboard. Give yourself a square when you feel the urge.

  • Have nice fruit and healthy snacks (nuts, natural yoghurt, hummus etc) available in your kitchen for those times when you need to snack and run.

  • Eat breakfast. Now that you’re waking up much easier, getting up just half an hour earlier is a cinch right? Enjoy that half hour over a mug of coffee and bowl of porridge (filled with cinnamon, nuts, dried cranberries and honey) while you read the news or listen to a podcast.

  • Avoid sugar. Nothing is going to make you want to dive into a couch for 24 hours more than a monster sugar crash. (This includes those worth-their-weight-in-sugar flapjacks you convince yourself are the healthy option!)

6. Caffeine & Alcohol

Ew. Guts.

Ew. Guts.

I love a good flat white as much as the next bearded, tattooed, pierced hipster. But I also know what happens when I have one (or three!) too many. Caffeine makes us feel more alert by activating our sympathetic nervous system - that part of the system we refer to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. In small doses, this can be constructive and help pep us up. But what happens when we’re stuck behind a desk or trying to pay attention to detail while our body wants to parkour its way out of its very skin? You start typing your life story into Excel and Brian from accounts gets sarky email responses. Drink more water or try out decaffeinated tea or coffee (honestly, there is an absolutely negligible difference in taste!)

Alcohol, on the other hand, is a central nervous system depressant. Quite aside from the obvious effects of a hangover, we always have to pay for alcohol in the near future to some extent. It will impair the quality of sleep, reduce reaction times, make us feel flat and impair memory. I’m not saying cut out alcohol, but if you struggle to say no to booze, perhaps try making less of your social interactions centred around it. Maybe this winter take the opportunity to take up a social hobby or course with friends. (Or just get better at saying no!)

7. Sleep Routine

Sleep. After air, water and decent waves, there’s nothing that’ll have a bigger impact on our wellbeing than sleep. We all know we’re supposed to get our 8 hours, but are we counting playing on our phone, watching tv series or reading our book as part of our 8? Are we getting to bed at a different time every night? Our bodies love and behave best when it comes to routine sleep patterns. Do yourself a favour - once you’ve bought your light alarm clock, leave your phone charging in the living room!

8. Vitamin D Supplement

You’ll very rarely hear me encouraging consumption of dietary supplements (a rounded plant or meat-based diet can’t be beat!), but Vitamin D is one I come back to each winter. Low levels of the vitamin have been linked to a weakened immune system, low mood and a whole range of illnesses. Given that our bodies produce the bulk of Vitamin D required through our skin’s exposure to sunlight, it’s no wonder that we in the further reaches of the northern hemisphere are a bit short-changed for a good chunk of the year…especially if we’re office bound for the majority of the time the sun’s swinging around the sky! If you’re going to supplement, I would recommend looking for a mouth spray, rather than tablets as research has shown higher absorption rates are recorded by spraying.

All this being said, it’d be remiss of me not to mention that there are a host of highly-qualified detractors as well as supporters of supplementing Vitamin D. Read here for a well-rounded article on the topic.

9. Vacation

Sunshine might balance out the shame of your horrendous French

Sunshine might balance out the shame of your horrendous French

For those of us fortunate enough to be able to afford to travel off to sunnier shores, it’s well worth considering when and where we decide to do so. Very often we go on holidays in the summer months, just when the sun has started showing itself. How about a November or January trip to somewhere sunny? Not only will we get a morale-boosting dose of sunshine, but it’ll probably be cheaper than a high season mid-summer jaunt.

10. Journal/Talk/Therapy

Coming in last, but definitely not least, is speaking up and speaking out. However you like to whoever you want, DON’T HESITATE! If things get bad, don’t put dark thoughts and seriously low mood down to simple winter blues. Write in a journal without self-censure or embarrassment, speak to friends or family, or go to see a GP or therapist. This list of tips is made up of building blocks to keep you tipping along and is absolutely no substitute for qualified mental health consultation.

Got any amazing suggestions on how to survive winter? Make sure to get in touch with any of your own you feel I’ve missed out on!