Sunday, September 11, 2011

Recipe of the week....

Jackie's Bliss Balls...

Our fabulous teacher Jackie has been making her own bliss/protein balls which are a great snack, delicious and healthy. They also make a yummy alternative to the processed treats kids often crave, and with no cooking required they can join in the fun of making these too.

Have a go at her recipe below....

1/4 cup Cashew nuts
1/4 cup Brazil nuts
1/4 cup Pecan nuts
1/4 cup Hazelnuts
1/4 cup Almonds
1 Tbspn Pumpkins Seeds
1 Tbspn Sunflower Seeds
2 Tbsp Shredded Coconut
2 Tbsps LSA mix
5 Dates
2 Tbspn of Tahini
2 Tbspn of Rice Syrup
Sesame Seeds

In a hand blender (a small style food processor or a regular blender would work too) blend all nuts and coconut until fine. Cut dates and remove stones, add to blender with Tahini and Rice syrup and blend again.
Form balls and roll in sesame seeds or shredded coconut to finish.

(You can be creative and use any combination of nuts you fancy!)

Will make approx 12 balls.

Wishing you Happy Healthy Snacking from Jackie and The Mosman Yoga Co-op!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

stillness ... and the gentle art of stretching deeply

Yin Yoga is a wonderful compliment to our active (yang oriented) lives, dynamic asana practice and maturing bodies. It encourages a quiet, deep felt connection to ‘being’ and unlocks hidden natural flexibility in your connective tissues and joints.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Work with the body you have

Yoga practitioners fall prey to 'body image' just as much as anyone else - practising asana does not exempt anyone from being human. Except the body image issues in yoga are often less about how one looks and more about how one executes the postures. Quite often you can hear people talking about getting postures 'right'. Occasionally when I give a verbal or physical adjustment to someone, they will say 'sorry' and I will always ask why - and the reason, of course, is that they think they've done something wrong. They haven't - I'm making the adjustment to hopefully make them feel more at ease - sukha - in the posture, not because the posture isn't perfect.

No posture is perfect, and all postures are perfect. No one's body in a posture is perfect - and they're all perfect. It is incredibly important when you are practising yoga postures to remember to work with the body that you have, not the body that you think you should have according to what you've seen in some yoga book or magazine, or that someone has told you that you should have.

The body you have is perfect for you. The postures can be adapted for you - you do not have to adapt to the postures. One of the many wonderful things about yoga asanas is that they can be modified in a seemingly infinite number of ways.

It is also very important to recognise what sort of body you have when you're practising asana. In her book The Feel Good Body, physiotherapist Anna-Louise Bouvier (writing with Jennifer Fleming) identifies three body types: floppies, stiffies and flippies. Floppies are, generally speaking, people with hypermobile joints and loose connective tissues; stiffies are, as you'd expect, people with tough connective tissue and not much joint mobility. Flippies are mostly floppy people with some stiff bits. I think we mainly see flippies in yoga, and quite a few floppies. Stiffies often don't come into yoga class because they think they're 'too stiff'.

As a teacher, it's important for me to work out which body type (out of these three) each student is, as I may need to adjust what I'm teaching to accommodate them. It's just as important for the student/practitioner to have this awareness about themselves so they don't attempt a practice that isn't suitable for them.

Floppy people are often attracted to yoga asana practice because they can just flop into postures - they'll hang in their joints, 'having a holiday', as my teacher would say. Eventually those joints will wear out, but in the meantime asana practice can feel quite easy for them, and to other, stiffer, people in the class these floppy people may look 'perfect' in the postures. But floppy people need to do more work on their core strength than anyone else - that's the price they pay for being floppy. Because their bodies are constantly trying to find where they are in space, their cores are not fixed and this can lead to back pain and, ultimately, sore knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrists as the support work for the body is pushed outwards along the limbs. When teaching floppies, my job is to 'pull them back' - to not let them hang in their joints, to make them stop before they reach the end of their range of motion. They need to connect to their core-strength muscles much more than they need to flop into those joints.

Stiff people have the job of not getting any stiffer as they age. They should never look at a floppy person sitting in padmasana (lotus) and moan about how they'll never get into that posture. They're right - they won't, and they shouldn't even try. Instead they should work at keeping their hip joints as mobile as possible, while being happy with the fact that their cores are probably a lot stronger than those of the floppies. Stiffies should never try for dramatic hamstring stretches or extreme backbends. Instead, yoga asanas can help them maintain good health and mobility right now and into the future. This is obviously a very different practice to what is available to floppy people, but the yoga practice can accommodate both of these body types.

Flippies need to work out which of their body parts are stiff and not push them beyond the very real limitations that exist. For example, a flippy may have very mobile hip joints but their shoulders may be incredibly tight. The shoulder is already a very mobile joint, even in stiff people, so if there's a restriction in the joint it's very important to not push that joint too far. But a flippy person may think that everything is so loose in their body that they should attempt to go further in the shoulders. They shouldn't. They need to respect the body they have and not try to make it into a floppy body.

The biggest barrier to overcome for all of us when trying to work with the bodies we have is to let go of the idea that we 'should' have another type of body - typically, a super-floppy, hypermobile body that can fold itself into all the different asanas. As I'm fond of saying, there are no 'shoulds' in yoga. So if a student thinks she or he 'should' be able to get into a certain backbend when they're simply too locked into the lower back - well, they should not. There is a modification that will give them the same benefits as the classical posture and in which they will feel better. It is far more important to feel sthirra and sukha (steady and at ease) in the postures than it is to do the postures the way you've seen in books or on floppy people. The only way this is possible is to work with the body you have and not wish for another one. The body you have is perfect in its imperfections, and it will teach you a lot if you just let it. Apart from which, it is simply a waste of time and energy to wish for another body when the one you has is carrying you through each day, walking you around, digesting your food, breathing, pumping blood and so on. It's a perfectly good body - it just needs a bit of maintenance to stay that way.

- Sophie Hamley

Thursday, June 9, 2011

At the beginning, it's all about breath

It's been a while since I've taught a beginners class, and as I prepare to teach tonight - the first beginners class on a Thursday night at the co-op - I find that I'm really excited. Not necessarily to 'get back to the basics' because the basics are always there when I'm planning classes anyway. More, it's an opportunity to construct a different sort of class to the one I usually teach.

When you have familiar people in class, and you know which parts of their bodies move and which don't, that's a wonderful opportunity to play a little, to push beyond a few mental and perceived physical limitations. But the idea of a beginners class is that students come in, get comfortable and then, hopefully, move onto general classes. So I won't be as playful; I would rather focus on what unifies the practice across all styles and teachers.

Fundamentally, the one unifying element is breath. Breath can also be the hardest thing for new - and experienced - students to get their heads around. We all think we just breathe and that's that - no thought required. Yet how we breathe directly affects how we feel and move. If you're not breathing correctly, you're not going to feel great and your body won't be able to move freely. And, to be frank, in Western societies we're just not that good at breathing. We hunch our shoulders forwards and constrict our lungs; we breathe into our upper chests and never explore the 'scary' depths of the lower lungs. Then we wonder why we get headaches and feel tired and just have general malaise.

So I'm taking this beginners class still as an opportunity to play at little - but with breath. Moving meditations with breath. Sitting still with breath. Lying with breath. In between there will be some postures, of course. But mostly it will be about breath, and the deliciousness of breathing. At least, I hope that's how it will come across ...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Backbends - the river between earth and heaven

Recently one of the practitioners in my class asked about ustrasana, a difficult backbending posture known in English as ‘camel’.

Several years ago I remember my teacher saying that it took a whole class to prepare for this posture, and I’ve never seen reason to question that. Backbends, like twists, require a whole lot of parts of the body to co-operate – to be warm and receptive to a strong movement that can be powerful in, hopefully, a good way.

The longer I have practised and taught yoga asanas, the more respect I have for backbends and the more I love them. More than the inversions such as headstand and handstand, they are, for me, akin to the Holy Grail of the physical practice – the postures that welcome you only when you are truly ready, when you have humbled yourself before them, when you have offered yourself up to their greater power. They are the river between heaven and earth – between the physical heaven of sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head and the physical earth of mooladhara chakra at the base of the spine; they open up sushumna nadi between those chakras, requiring udana and apana vayus to be flowing, connecting you to the energy of the metaphysical heaven above and the very real earth beneath our feet. They require you to possess both sthira - steadiness - and sukha - ease in the body or embodied joy. All asanas require that you balance these two qualities, but that balance is particularly challenging in backbends, where there are so many things that can make us feel unsteady and, thus, less at ease.

When you’re ready for a backbend such as ustrasana – when you have practised the principles of vinyasa, working mindfully towards your asana, preparing legs, hips, shoulders, spine – there is no physical sensation like it. The sense of release, of bliss, of surrender is extraordinary.

You don’t necessarily have to be in ustrasana – you could be in the more accessible dhanurasana, which is the same posture but in a different relationship to gravity, or the more grounded yet often just as challenging urdhva dhanurasana. But there is something about that posture that made the student in question ask about it, and that something is probably what a lot of people experience in the pose: a sense of instability and of the world being slightly tilted on its axis; of not knowing where you are in time and space.

Thus ustrasana does what every challenging posture should do: it makes you question what business you have even being in it. If you’re not ready for it, why are you even in it? What’s the rush? Why don’t you come back next lifetime and do it? Of course, you don’t want to wait because the fruits of the posture are so tantalising: that heaven–earth thing, again. So we persevere in the hard backbends, and eventually we either give up or find a way to surrender to them.

My favourite backbend is one I learned from Shiva Rea, which I believe came out of her own practice: radhakrishna-asana. More than any other backbend, it will tell me what’s going on in my body and my life: if I’m not ready for it, I simply can’t do it so well and I will have to back off; if I am ready for it – if I flow towards it – then it rewards me with rapture and joy and, yes, heaven and earth, literal and metaphysical and energetic.

And this is why coming back to the mat, time after time, remains so rewarding and so beautiful: this practice of yoga — of body, mind and breath and spirit — is truly and literally embodied in postures such as these. Only if I take my time, though; only if I don’t rush it. I have to be patient. I have to accept that the posture is not mine to take but it will be granted to me if I’ve prepared for it.

Sometimes, obviously, there are very real physical limitations that prevent someone backbending – but this does not mean there are not other postures or variations of the backbending postures that cannot provide the same bliss. Lying on the ground in savasana is also a connection between earth – the back body is lying on it – and heaven – the front body is open to it.

Every yoga practitioner no doubt has at least one asana that represents this for them – this sense that they are the conduit between heaven and earth. If you don’t think you have one, next time you’re on the mat, act as a witness to your own practice and just see what happens. There will be one, I guarantee it – possibly savasana, possibly ustrasana, possibly something else completely different. And once you realise that it’s your heaven–earth posture, well ... how wonderful. You’ve found your connection. Enjoy it.

- Sophie Hamley

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to cook brown rice

Anyone who's interested in maintaining good health - and most people who practise yoga are - is usually also interested in eating well. I found the following simple and delicious brown rice recipe on the blog Chemo Chic - many thanks to the author, Jessica Jones, for granting permission for us to reproduce it here. Jessica discovered the joys of brown rice while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She had previously 'hated brown rice all my life. That is, until I learned how to cook it properly. Now I love brown rice. I could eat it every day.'

Jessica's book The Elegant Art of Falling Apart will be published later this year by Hachette Australia. - Sophie

How to cook brown rice:

Use everything organic, if possible.

Half a cup of short grain brown rice.
One cup of water
A handful of sesame seeds
A sprinkling of Umeboshi plum vinegar (from Japanese shops or good health food shops)

Put the rice and the water in a small pan with the lid on. Bring it to the boil then turn the flame right down and leave it to simmer for 25 minutes. Do not take the lid off.

Meanwhile, dry roast the sesame seeds in a frying pan over a low flame. Stir or shake them constantly until they are golden brown because they can burn in a flash.

After 20 minutes or so, check the rice to see if it has absorbed all the water. The rice should be soft but a bit chewy, not mushy. If it is still wet, put the lid back on and leave it for another 5 minutes. Once all the water is absorbed, turn the flame off and let the rice sit with the lid on for another 5 minutes or so. Then stir in the sesame seeds and add a splash of the vinegar.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nicolette's raw raspberry 'cheesecake'

Recently some of the MYCO teachers gathered for dinner. We were all in raptures when Nicolette gave us the following raw raspberry (or strawberry, if you prefer) 'cheesecake' for dessert. So we thought we'd share it with you ...

For the crust
2 cups of macadamia nuts
4 - 6 dates pitted
1/4 cup of shredded coconut

1. Sprinkle dried coconut onto the bottom of 8 or 9 inch dish / pan.
2. In a blender combine nuts and date. press this mixture onto the coconut in the pan.

For the 'cheese'
3 cups of cashews soaked for at lease 1 hour
3/4 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup of honey
3/4 cup coconut oil
1tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

3. In blender mix ingredients until smooth.
4. Pour mixture onto crust.
5. Place in freezer until firm.

For raspberry sauce
2 cups raspberries (or strawberries)
4 to 6 dates

Blend together and pour over frozen cake.

I often halve the recipe as it uses so many nuts and make a little cake that fits really well into a 21 cm x 15 cm Pirex dish.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meet the teacher: Simone Selby

1. Please describe the style of yoga you teach.
I teach a back rehabilitation class that is based on a combination of physiotherapy, Pilates and hatha yoga. The 10-week program addresses a different part of the body each week, e.g. neck and shoulders, sacro-iliac and lumbar spine, abdominals and sides. Each class works on decompressing the vertebral collumn, pelvic floor and deep core muscle strengthening, as these are the basics of alleviating back and neck problems.

2. Why did these disciplines appeal to you initially?
Pilates appealed to me as I liked its emphasis on decompression of the spine and peripheral joints. It also specifically strengthens the core muscles of the spine and abdomen. The latest research into chronic spinal pain shows that the Pilates method helps alleviate pain.

3. Why did you decide to become a teacher?
After suffering 20 years of headaches that resolved following a 10-week Pilates program, I felt a moral obligation to the community to share and teach the pilates method. I have been a practicing physiotherapist for 23 years and am also an acupuncturist. I incorporate education about why problems and blockages occur in the body into the pilates class, so that the students understand how and why the exercises can help them

4. How long have you been teaching, and where have you taught before now/where else are you teaching now?
I have been teaching in the Mosman area for 10 years at various studios. I currently teach Monday and Thursday mornings at Mosman Yoga Co-op and Tuesday evenings in Castlecrag.

5. How does teaching fit into your own practice - has it become part of your practice, has it changed your practice?
I have my own acupuncture clinic and physiotherapy practice in Castlecrag. The knowledge I have gained from teaching Pilates over the last 10 years has influenced my work in that all my clients learn to manage and alleviate a lot of their symptoms using exercise programs on their own. It is wonderful to give people the skills to help themselves.

6. If someone is new to yoga or Pilates, what would you tell them to encourage them to begin practising?
I would encourage all ages shapes and sizes to try the pilates method, especially if they have a history of pain. The classes actually show and teach you how to change postural habits and strengthen the hidden muscles of the core. The classes are challenging in that you are learning to use and connect to muscles that you have never used before, but at the same time the class is relaxing and calming due to the nature of the exercises. The class is not aerobic or jarring, rather flowing, strengthening and centering.

7. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
I currently have spaces available in the Monday and Thursday classes in Mosman. Students need to bring a Pilates ball to the Thursday class. I am happy to answer any further questions over the phone on 0421 369 643.

The perfect pair

When I first started practising yoga, many moons ago, I was young and shy and mortified at the idea of having to work with a partner in yoga class. Each time my teacher, Judy Krupp, would ask us to work in pairs, I'd inwardly cringe and then just try to make the best of it. After a few years had passed I started to appreciate that working with a partner opens up a completely different way to practise asana: one is both supported and challenged. It's a form of work that can't be achieved solo, even using props (although the ropes used in classic Iyengar practice come close). When one works with a partner, the partner can, within reason, push a little bit, pull back a little bit, and generally make the experience new. The asana you practice with a partner is a new posture, in a lot of ways.

Heavy rain has fallen on Sydney over the last few days, and we also had a full moon over the weekend. It's always wise to take the environment, weather and lunar cycle into account when planning classes, as we are all affected by these things, whether we want to believe that or not. So for my class this week I decided that a grounding, earthy practice with a little bit of heat would be best - grounding and earthy because of the moon and a bit of heat to steam off and squelch out the water.

For the first time ever, I decided to give over a large portion of the class to partner work (usually I'll only ask students to work one or two postures at a time in pairs). My theory was that the partnering would provide the grounding/earthing by providing strength. To prepare for this work we played around with core strength using props so that the bodies were used to the idea of a support structure; then real, live humans took the place of the props.

The results were surprising. I had expected that, after the initial heat of the warm-up work and the core strength work, the partner practice would be slower, even a bit heavier, more tamasic. We moved slowly, for sure, but everyone got very, very warm. The partnering seemed to encourage openness in bodies (and tongues, occasionally - I had to use my schoolmarm voice in order to be heard) that translated into heat flowing out of everyone and into the room; it was a rajasic practice. Even with the windows open, it was steamy. And then they all got really tired - almost exhausted - even though we hadn't done that many postures.

The whole class was a reminder that we are fundamentally energy beings, and that the behaviour of that energy can't necessarily be predicted. I like to use the phrase 'opening the gates' when talking about what asanas can do, and it seemed that in the class the partnering helped fling open gates that had perhaps been rusted shut for a while. It was really exciting to see - exciting to feel the living energy in the room. And it's definitely encouraged me to incorporate more partner work in class in future.

To my wonderful students who came along to play, sweat and laugh - thank you. I hope you all slept really, really well.

- Sophie Hamley

Monday, January 24, 2011

Change is the only constant

As a new teaching year starts, it's a good time to evaluate where I'm at as a teacher, where I could do better, how my students are faring on and off the mat, and how best I can serve them.

It is perhaps the greatest blessing as a yoga teacher to have regular, long-term students, and I am blessed with several. Being able to observe a human being at close range over the course of years - to see how their body changes with their practice and their life, sometimes for good and sometimes bad - is a rare privilege. If I did not have these students - if I was only ever seeing people in a peripatetic fashion - I don't think I'd have progressed much as a teacher. Coming up with new directions and new ways to play for these students is a powerful motivator for me to keep exploring in my own practice, while still allowing the teaching to arise organically.

A combination of things has led me to return to some low-key study, made possible by Shiva Rea's Living Yoga Sadhana online course. I have done some in-person study with Shiva and this 'distance learning' program is ideal for those who cannot see her on a regular basis. I have no idea what will come out of this teaching, but Shiva never fails to inspire. I've also been led to Sally Kempton, aka Swami Durgananda, who is a meditation teacher of profound gifts - and a wonderful voice. So while the people in my class are used to practising meditation, we may be doing even more this year - or, perhaps, just practising differently.

I can't know what will come up for my students or for me over the course of this year; every class is different, and it is so important to be open to what is going on in the room each time. I learnt long ago that making strict class plans is a bad idea. Being able to step into the flow - embracing the idea that change is the only constant, with all the fear and wonder that brings - is my greatest challenge and joy as a teacher. It is my students who have made it possible for me to do it - without them I would have no reason to even want to explore change, to not have plans, to think about what else may be out there that will be interesting to us all.

For tonight's class I have a theme and a loose plan, but I know that it could all change if just one person walks in feeling sick, or with an injury. I just won't know until they all turn up. And that's really exciting. So for that excitement, to those people who turn up I can only offer bottomless gratitude. My own teacher put me on the path - now you keep me on it.


- Sophie Hamley