• 3 reasons yoga should be part of your training programme

    Posted in Cross training on May 24, 2013

    It’s that time of year (despite the rather prolonged winter) that many people begin to transition from ‘winter training’ and begin to ramp up preparations for summer events. Maybe you’re running a marathon, taking part in a long distance cycling ‘sportive’, training for a triathlon or just keen to get exercising outside after months in the darkness in the gym. Whatever you’re doing, don’t under-estimate the power of yoga as a key part of your training programme. Nick Ryder (rugby player and yoga instructor), takes a look at why regular yoga should be one of the top priorities of any athlete – whether you’re undertaking your first 5km race or your 10th Ironman.

    Flexibility

    Regular yoga increases joint mobility and flexibility, which in turn leads to an increased range of motion. A cyclist with increased joint mobility will be able to operate at a higher cadence (with more power) and a swimmer with more range of motion will be able to capture more water (and swim faster) than someone with less range of movement. In addition, consistent work on range of motion and flexibility (whatever the sport) through yoga will decrease the chance of injury. A few months ago, I recommended a squash player take up yoga. I bumped into them the other day and they were singing yoga’s praises. Not only were they feeling much fresher and more supple on court, their reach had increased by nearly a foot as they could lunge much deeper and further thanks to yoga.

    Balance

    Whether you are brushing up your tennis serve in preparation for those long summer evenings or looking to add an extra 30 yards to your golf drive, balance is a key component in all sports. Better balance and coordination in turn lead to better technique and perfect form – the aim for all athletes. The majority of standing yoga poses require some level of balance, from the easier triangle pose all the way to the single legged warrior 3/ half moon/ tree poses. You can work on your balance at any time of day – waiting in line for coffee, on the phone or even watching TV. Simply take one foot off the floor and balance on the other leg. To add difficulty, close your eyes. You’ll soon begin to notice a difference. If you’re feeling particularly hardcore, why not try standing on the train/ bus/ tube without holding a handrail. With your eyes closed. Well maybe not the last bit… you’ll just end up looking strange.

    What might happen if you don’t do yoga…

    Mental Control

    Most people would agree that yoga is a ‘great workout’ that helps increase strength, balance and flexibility, but one of the biggest benefits is increased mental strength. For most people, this will manifest itself in feeling much more in control, less stressed and generally much calmer in the face of stressful situations. However, for athletes this is where the edge is gained. The meditative section of class – ‘savasana’ or ‘corpse pose’ – is where the mind works on quelling negative self talk and improving focus, ultimately leading to improved athletic performance.

    I am currently training for the Ride London 100 Olympic legacy event, a 100 mile bike race through London and the Surrey hills. The mental relaxation side of yoga helps me to embrace (and even relax into) hill climbs, despite the raging agony in my legs. In addition, Ive seen my temperament improve hugely on the golf course. I used to get irate after hitting a poor shot and it would affect later shots, but the more I do yoga, the less concerned I am. I might not be playing significantly better, but I’m not throwing the clubs around anymore if I hook one into the parking lot!

    If you’re a seasoned athlete or new to exercise, yoga is an important tool in anyone’s exercise regime. However many people train hard without adding the benefits of yoga into their schedule, which could be detrimental in the long run. Make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of sporting success by supplementing your training programme with yoga.

    If you would like to find out more and add yoga to your training programme, you can book a private session with Nick, here or check out one of his group classes in Parsons Green and Fulham.

  • Yoga – a beginner’s journey

    Posted in yoga on March 28, 2013

    Thinking about taking your first steps into yoga? Adrian Kowal, yoga instructor and co-founder of the Evolve Yoga and Wellness Centre talks us through his beginner’s journey…
    A substantial pool of stinky sweat has pooled on my mat right underneath the ends of my trembling fingers which I’ve been commanded to “offer” to my reflection in the mirror. My eye keeps roaming to the attractive blonde two rows back who wears a small black sports bra and bottoms which barely cover her modesty. The instructor barks via his radio mic for us to keep our “drishti” (our attention) on ourselves and orders us into a toe-stand. Not wanting to look soft I ignore the screaming from my left knee cap – until I hear a ‘pop’.
    Like many before and after me I began my yoga journey on the repulsively odorous mats of Bikram studios across London. That was until I injured my knee, which took four years to recover. ‘Proper’ yoga was always preconceived as a bunch of vegans, chanting in strange tongues whilst pretzeling themselves into the shape of balloon sculptures. All the incense and woo-woo-ery seemed a little too contorted for any real benefit to my good self.

    Fast-forward a few years and I enrolled onto a Hatha yoga basics course, which armed me with the fundamentals of yoga, and I soon realized that much of what yoga is all about doesn’t have anything to do with the physical element on a mat.  The way that yoga differs from almost all physical activities is the depth and breadth of the practice.

    From deep full breathing techniques, which can either reinvigorate you or ground you, to a holistic philosophy around nutrition, mind and spirit – yoga offers a fully complimentary system for those seeking support in areas often untouched in traditional education.

    Since re-beginning my ‘proper’ yoga journey, my mind functions on a calmer and more effective level. With the discipline of a regular on-the-mat practice my body feels energised, toned, clearer of toxins, and I enjoy a much greater connection to the physical sensations of my organs and muscles. The coolest thing however is that I can stand on my head.

    From a practical perspective the way in which yoga integrates itself into my daily and often hectic city life, is to offer me a selection of useful techniques and practical applications in different situations. If for example someone is confrontational during a business phone call, instead of reacting straight away I pause – take deep breath from the bottom of my stomache – and then reply in a much calmer and often more considered way than I used to in the past. Before I take to the ski slopes, 20 minutes is dedicated to spinal twists and other yogic stretches that will ensure my body will be supple and prepared for a thorough day of skiing, and will alleviate that lower-back tightness that used to dominate my body.

    Whatever your fitness level, spiritual inclination, or mental condition, yoga is a wonderful tool to support you in living a healthier, more grounded lifestyle in the often stressful conundrum that is modern-day living. The best place to start is to find a beginners level course or class to ease yourself into what can be a life-enhancing practice.

    Details of Adrian’s classes can be found here.

  • Finding Balance

    Yoga instructor Erika Shapiro talks about the importance of finding balance in our lives and offers a few tips to help ease the pressure.

    We live in times when we tend to be constantly wired. Work generally demands a lot from us and we are forever on duty with smartphones and technology.  We try to conciliate and balance other aspects of our lives such as families, friends, and hobbies.  Ultimately, this leaves very little time for ourselves.

    Erika Shapiro

    This means that our nervous system is constantly on alert. Ideally, we would like our nervous system to be balanced, with on one side the parasympathetic system (our calming response) and on the other our sympathetic system (our fight and flight response). We need both to function and to be able to intervene when needed. If there is a real threat to our safety, it is important that our sympathetic nervous system is able to kick in, creating adrenaline. When, we have been in overdrive, it is important that our parasympathetic system responds, bringing us back to balance. However, in modern life, our sympathetic system is often overactive, leaving us depleted and searching for balance.

    We can also think of this balance as the yin and yang of the daoist system. The two are in constant flux with each other, like a pendulum.

    Below I offer a few little self-care tips that can help us achieve more balance in our busy and pressurized lives:

    • Take time out from external stimulus. Switch off the phone and make yourself unavailable for 10-15 minutes on a regular basis (2-3 time per week to start with). Find a comfortable seating position (a chair or a sofa is fine), making sure that your spine is straight and upright, and that you are sitting on your sitting bones.  Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Thoughts will come to your mind: just watch them come and watch them go, bringing your attention back to the breath when you drift. Imagine that you are watching your mind activity from a camera, with a lens and that you are zooming out, watching from a distance.  Stay with the breath;
    • Set time aside for something deeply nurturing, if you are feeling depleted. Try and resist the temptation to unwind with a glass of wine or in front of the TV (or both!) once in a while and choose something that feeds you in a more holistic way. Book a massage, surround yourself with art or music, go for a walk in nature, book a meditation, yoga class or do something creative (drawing, painting, sculpture….). This will help you reconnect with your deeper sense of self. It is important that we learn to practice kindness and compassion not only with others but also to ourselves;
    • Have an early night. The body needs to rest and restore. We often confuse adrenaline for energy and are unaware of our fatigue. If you have trouble sleeping, try breathing deeply, lengthening your exhale to calm your nervous system;
    • If your diet has been erratic, make the time to prepare a homemade meal with lots of organic vegetables. Our modern diets tend to be rich in acidic content. Vegetables are mostly alkaline and help us rebalance our PH levels. There is something deeply soothing and nurturing in chopping and preparing lots of multicolored vegetables. Make a nice soup, salad or just some oven-roasted vegetables.  No need to be a chef!;
    • Breathe deeply! Our breath tends to be constricted, especially when we are in overdrive. Learn a few basic breathing techniques that you can practice when necessary. They can be deployed at any time; before an important meeting, to help you get through a deadline, or to just help you reconnect.  A recommended book is “The Breathing Book” by Donna Farhi.

    Erika Shapiro

    By practicing deeper awareness and becoming more attuned to our rhythms and needs, we can lead healthier and more balanced lives. Yoga helps us develop this internal awareness and inner insight. It is not just limited to what we practice on our mat; the awareness we carry with us off the mat is just as important. It is easy to confuse adrenaline for energy and deplete ourselves even further, increasing our stress levels. By getting to know ourselves better we will know which is which and when it is necessary to intervene and practice a bit of self-care.  This will lead to better balance and deeper harmony in our lives.

    You can book a  yoga lesson with Erika here.

    Erika truly grateful to those who have helped her find deeper balance in her life: Linda D’Antal, Alex Filmer-Loch, Joanne Avison, Deborah Grant, Bo Forbes to name a few.