Guest Post: Five Reasons to Start Practicing Yoga Today

This is my first ever guest post which is very exciting! It’s from Carolyn Fallon and it’s all about how awesome yoga is. Enjoy! 

© KK

Yoga is an ancient art of physical movements, techniques and mental exercises first used in India over 2,000 years ago. After centuries of refinement and development, Yoga began to spread to regions outside of Central Asia. Today, yoga is one of the leading disciplines taught in the West to help students foster positive mind-body interaction. Here are five of the top reasons why yoga is a great exercise for people of all ages and walks of life.

1) Yoga is a great exercise
When most people think of exercise, they think about pushing the body to its limit and working to exhaustion. Exercise, however, need not be as intensive as it is often portrayed in the media. Supplemented by a modest amount of cardiovascular exercise, yoga is a great cornerstone to a sustainable, enjoyable exercise regimen. Further, its ancient roots ensure that the techniques have been tested for centuries, and students will learn skills that have been constantly improved for thousands of years.

2) Yoga helps with other physical activities
There was a time when many thought that physical benefits of yoga were limited. Stretching, for example, was viewed as only moderately useful for baseball or football players. Recently, however, this mindset is changing, and many are finding that yoga helps athletes compete in sports that seem wholly unrelated to yoga. It is not uncommon to hear about professional athletes in a wide range of sports taking up yoga to improve their performances on the field. Dr. Glen Axelrod of the Center for Orthopedic & Spine Care even claims, “Many professional athletic teams use yoga as an integral part of their training.”

3) Yoga helps ease the ageing process
Falls and poor joint health are two of the dangers of entering middle age and senior years (or your thirties if you are me! Lizzy). By helping improve flexibility, Yoga reduces strain on the body’s joints and muscles. Balance exercises help students learn to balance themselves and avoid potentially dangerous falls. The aging process has unavoidable effects, but many people are too quick to assume that everything they see in the media is unavoidable. By starting and maintaining a regular exercise routine, everyone can help themselves smooth this process as much as possible.

4) Yoga provides mental benefits
While most initially focus on the physical benefits of Yoga, its mental benefits quickly become apparent. Its techniques provide the benefits of meditation in a structured, enjoyable manner. Medical experts have been touting the need for relaxing and slowing down for the past several decades, and Yoga gives its students tools to accomplish this. Students all agree that the mental effects of regular Yoga practice help them navigate their day-to-day lives with grace in addition to improving their general mental state.

5) Yoga is a great social activity
Many students look forward to talking to others who are learning the art. The Yoga community is strong in the West, and there are local groups in almost every region of the United States and Europe. Taking Yoga classes gives students a group of friends with whom they can discuss Yoga and other healthy living ideas. Yoga students often share interests in diet, other forms of exercise and other techniques to improve one’s health, and new students will find a warm and inviting community.

Carolyn Fallon is a 20-something year old with a passion for life, fitness and overall well-being. She is an avid spinner, healthy cooking enthusiast and lover of life. Check out Carolyn’s blog

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Stirrup leg warmers – free pattern

Here’s the pattern for my stirrup leg warmers. Mine are for yoga but you could use them for whatever you want.  You could take out the stirrup and wear them as normal leg warmers or you might want to make them a little shorter and have them as ankle warmers- it’s up to you!

Materials
2.5 balls (245 yards) Garnstudio Drops Lima
4mm circular needle or DPNs (depending on what you prefer)
cable needle

Gauge
4 inches=20 stitches across and 24 stitches up
I’m a very loose knitter so it’s well worth checking that your gauge matches and adapting appropriately.

Pattern

To start:            Cast on 50 stitches.

I used a cable cast on for a firmer edge.  Join and begin working in the round. I prefer to use a long circular needle and the magic loop method but you might prefer either a shorter circular needle or DPNs. It’s up to you.

Rows 1-5:          Knit in 2×2 rib (knit 2 stitches, purl 2 stitches)
Rows: 6-9:        [P3, K4, P3] x 5
Row 10:             [P3, C2B*, P3] x5
Rows 11-60:     Repeat rows 6-10
Row 61:             [P3,K4,P3] x2, K4,P1, cast off 25 stitches
Row 62:            [P3, K4, P3] x2, K4, P1 cast on 25 stitches
Row 63:            [P3, K4, P3] x 5
Row 64:            [P3, K4, P3] x 5
Row 65:            [P3, C2B*,P3] x5
R0w 66-75:     Repeat rows 6-10
Rows 75-78:  Knit in 2×2 rib
Row 79:           Cast off loosely
To finish:        Pick up 44 stitches around ankle hole.

I picked up 20 from the top, 2 from each side and 20 from the bottom.

Knit 3 rows in 2×2 rib then cast off loosely. Weave in ends. Admire your first leg warmer and then make a start on the second!

If you spot any errors in the pattern, or you just want to let me know what you think, get in touch in the comment box below or at lizzylikescake@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

*slip next 2 stitches onto your cable needle, as if to knit, and hold at the back of your work, knit the next 2 stitches and then the 2 stitches from your cable needle.

If you don’t fancy making a pair but you want to keep your feet warm when you’re practicing your yoga you can find some similar pairs in my little Etsy shop.

Bad yoga day

I was in two minds about going along to my yoga class last week. My phased return to work is proving much more tiring than I’d anticipated and on top of that I hadn’t slept well the night before. I was very tempted to sit on the sofa eating biscuits and drinking tea.  Usually when I’m feeling tired or fed up a spot of yoga is just the thing to cheer me up. When I’m finished I feel much brighter and energised. That was enough to motivate myself to get there.

I arrived late to the class and missed my usual pre-class relaxation which is never a good start. I really relish my pre-class relaxation but sometimes I forget how important it is to calm down from the stresses of the day and get my head in the right place. My late start set the tone for the class and I very quickly realised that I was in for a bad yoga day. I’m hopeful that everyone has a bad yoga day from time to time… Suddenly it’s impossible to balance, remember a sequence, transition with anything approaching grace or indeed get your body to do anything very useful at all.

It’s all in the mind of course. There are so many things I have to learn about yoga. Somewhere along my journey I hope that I will learn how to switch off my busy mind no matter how tired and stressed I may feel.

Frame studio- Shoreditch

At the risk of stalking my yoga teacher I went along to a class she was covering at Frame in Shoreditch last night. I’ve heard a few things about Frame and I’ve been interested in checking it out for a while.

They are fairly new (as far as I know) and are dance and fitness studio rather than a dedicated yoga studio. This kind of approach worries me as I find that Yoga classes at gyms can be a very hit and miss affair. For me, yoga taken out of its context and used just for weight loss totally misses the point. Maybe its many years living in Brighton, or the hippy in me, but I believe that any weight loss or toning is a side effect of yoga and the real benefit is the balancing of the body and the mind and the sense of well being that brings.  If you’re selecting postures and sequences based on how  much weight students will lose, or where they want to tone up, you’re missing out the most beneficial part.

With the above in mind I was fairly apprehensive about what I would find. I was torn between wanting to check the place out because it looked quite cool and wondering how well yoga, a fitness studio and hipsters go together.

I shouldn’t have worried. The studio is a lovely space, high ceilings, lots of light and wooden floors. It was easy to find  and I was impressed with the friendly staff, the massive changing rooms and the overall feel of the place. While the class was only an hour long it was proper yoga rather than a soulless fitness version.

It was lovely to get back to Vinyasa flow after the Budokon I’ve been learning for the past month. It’s so much easier when you know what comes next and already have the sequences lodged in your subconscious. I was enjoying it so much that I totally forgot to worry about my forearm stand and got myself into the posture on  the first go. It was an assisted forearm stand but I found myself thinking that one day I will be able to get into, and hold, the posture on my own.

I wasn’t so keen on the massive mirrors in the room where the class was held but I suppose you need to have those for the dance classes. Luckily I was quite near the back so avoided having to stare at my sweaty face for an hour! The class was much bigger than I’m used to but everyone was very friendly and I didn’t spot even one aloof  hipster.

Yoga classes can be very expensive in London (£10 minimum often as much as £12.00) so I was pleased that my trip coincided with an offer they have on at the moment for 10 days of  yoga for £10. As this is less than I pay for my usual weekly class I was very pleased. Even if I don’t go again I’ve still saved £2.00 – bargain!  After a good look through their timetable I’ve found various classes I’d like to try over the next ten days and I’m rather looking forward to it!

Overall I’m very pleased with my new yoga find.

Budokon- classes 3 and 4

As I missed one of the classes in my Budokon course my lovely teacher let me come along to the other course she is running at the same time. I’d never say no to a free yoga class but I was apprehensive about taking classes two days in a row.

The first class was at Yoganesh which is one of my favourite yoga studios in my corner of London. It’s bright and light with wooden floors and has a very welcoming feel. The only down side is that it’s a fairly small space  so trying not to kick anyone else in the face adds an extra level of challenge…..

For some reason my brain refuses to take in the dancing dog sequence so I had to keep checking the next posture. I was so focused on just trying to get the moves in the right order  that I didn’t have enough space left in my brain to concentrate on my alignment and transitions. I’d also managed to choose the spot with the creaky board which didn’t help me to feel any more graceful!

As the class progressed I didn’t manage to add much extra elegance but I thoroughly enjoyed getting my body moving. I find the Budokon style much harder work but the need for concentration on the sequences means that I don’t really notice how much effort I’m putting in until the end.

I arrived at the next days class a little achey but optimistic. The good thing about taking classes two days in a row is that you can see the improvement straight away. Most of the dancing dog sequence finally sunk into my brain and I was able to start working a little on alignment and aesthetics which I was very pleased with- although I have a lot of work left to do.

Now I’ve reached the end of the 4 week course I feel as though I’ve dipped my toe into the water with Budokon but have a whole heap left to learn before I feel anywhere near proficient! I’ve enjoyed myself though and hopefully I’ll get myself to some drop in classes in the near future. In the mean time I’m rather looking forward to getting back to my usual vinyasa flow class this week.

Budokon challenge – part 2

My head cold has now finally gone so I was able to get myself down to yoga this week. I felt particularly proud of myself for struggling through the rain (it appears to be monsoon season in London at the moment which is not helped by my apparent inability to buy waterproof shoes). I was looking forward to class not having done much yoga through the duration of my cold (I don’t think a few frankly half arsed vinyasa sequences really count) and I wasn’t disappointed as it was a fun class and even better I could really feel myself working.

With the rain beating down on the roof we got straight into our dancing dog sequence. It’s fair to say that I haven’t missed my calling as a dancer/acrobat as I find it really hard to remember a sequence of movements. Somehow all memory of the previous class had left me and me and my two left feet stumbled our way through the sequences with absolutely no hint of grace and a lot of stopping to look at what everyone else was doing. I think I finally have it now though and am determined to have a practice this week however tempting it will be just to run through my usual vinyasa.

One of the really interesting aspects of this style of yoga is the animal references. As part of the class one of the exercises was a series of animal walks; a money, a cat and dolphin (and some other things I have already forgotten). After my initial apprehension about looking silly this was both fun and liberating although hard on the legs! I can really feel it today.

Although many of the postures and sequences in this style are very similar to what I’m used to the subtle differences make it much harder work and much more tiring. I’m really relishing the chance to use my body differently and waking up muscles that I haven’t been using in my normal practice.

While I am finding the course a challenge there’s something very liberating about not being a natural to this style. I know that I’m never going to be brilliant so there’s no point in comparing myself to everyone else. I’m free to go on my own little journey.

Budokon Yoga and why back to back classes are a bad idea for me…

I’ve been taking vinyasa flow classes for a couple of years and while I’m still really enjoying it (and have a hell of a lot left to learn!) I’m not finding it nearly as challenging as I did when I first started. As I am lucky enough to have a yoga teacher who teaches in two different styles I finally decided to take the plunge and learn a bit more about Budokon.

In a slightly masochistic way I’m drawn to learn more about the style as much of the focus  is on an area I really struggle with- fluidity of flow between postures. It’s also a very aesthetically pleasing practice with very graceful sequences which really appeals to me as I would love to be able to complete a beautiful looking sequence.

If I’m totally honest the first class of the 4 week introductory course was much harder going than I’d anticipated. This is probably partly because I thought it would be a good idea to take my usual class and the Budokon class back to back. My justification to myself was that I didn’t want to miss out on my usual class. I’ve been out of work for the past few weeks on doctors orders so I was hopeful that not having worked a full day before class would give me more energy. I think that subconsciously I was also feeling guilty for a definite softening round the edges that seems to have come from spending a lot of time at home (and eating a lot of cake….) .

Class 1 of 2 went very well. Really relaxing and much lower intensity than normal to allow for the second class. However when class 2 rolled around I was already feeling a bit weary. I also hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to shift from one style to another. I had hoped that as the differences are subtle the transition to the Budokon style would be easy. An optimistic assumption! Because the changes were subtle  it took a lot of concentration to adapt. It became apparent that I am so used to my vinyasa sequence that I often do it on autopilot so having to really think about my postures and transitions all the way through while trying to stop myself from automatically doing what I always do was a real challenge.

I found the transitions between downward dog and floating upward dog the trickiest part to adapt to. The spine is supposed to flow between the postures with elegance. Unfortunately my spine doesn’t seem to want to flow! It might as well have a hinge! I don’t expect to become a Budokon expert in 4 weeks so it seems sensible to pick the aspects I want to focus on-and I think this will be it!

By the end of the two classes I was feeling super relaxed but as the evening wore on a nasty head cold was starting to sneak up on me. I’m pretty sure that’s my body’s way of telling me not to try and push myself to hard. I’ll be heeding that warning this week and only taking the one class-assuming my nose has cleared enough to allow me to breathe by then!