Sarah Fretwell

Yoga, Movement, Mobility, Wellness

yoga teacher

Why Pigeon Pose Should Always Be Taught With a Block

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I personally love pigeon pose, but it wasn't always this way. When I was just starting out practising yoga, I had the tightest hips, and sitting in pigeon pose (see below image) was almost impossible without toppling over to the side. I love teaching pigeon pose, especially in my Yin classes, but will never teach it without the use of some sort of prop. Here's why.

The traditional version of pigeon pose is lying down in a passive, unsupported forward fold over the front leg. We're often told by our teachers to "surrender", to "release into the hips", and to stay here for several breaths. Many teachers simply offer the use of a prop if you think you need it, but don't insist on it. This presents a few issues, in my opinion. A new student who is a complete beginner will not have a clue whether he/she needs a block or not, and will usually see this as a failure in terms of flexibility. The same goes for the semi-flexible, who will often skip the use of a block even though they could really do with being propped up more.

It's for this reason that I always ask students to grab their block and prop themselves up under their hip with it, or to fold up a blanket under the hips if they have a little more openness in the hip joint and don't need to propped up so high.

One of the main reasons for practising pigeon pose with props is that the very nature of the pose puts the knee joint in a pretty precarious position,with the added weight of the torso and upper body lying on top of the knee, which isn't beneficial for the knee or hip joint.

Many teachers guide students into pigeon with the front leg hip drawing as far over to the side of the mat, and the front heel dragging over towards the opposite side of the mat, in an attempt to get a right angle with the front hip. With this alignment, the student tries desperately to keep upright while keeping the front leg in line with the front of the mat, and try to bring their torsos into an upright position.

By propping students up with a block or blanket, students can find much more of a release in this pose, while keeping the integrity of the knee and hip joints safe.

What to do if you're stuck in a yoga rut (and how to get out of it)

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Whether you're a fully fledged yogi, or an every-now-and-again sort of yoga person, it's only inevitable that you'll come across a brick wall in your practice at least once in your life.

I personally went through this, shall we say "yoga rut", back in 2015, a year after I had started teaching. My practise went down from being everyday to once a week if I was lucky. I'd lost my yoga mojo, and felt really guilty about it but I just didn't feel like practising.

I think for me, I wasn't going to enough classes or workshops in order to keep me inspired, and this combined with my diminishing self-practice meant that I totally lacked inspiration in this area of my life. I was still teaching, but not really practising nearly enough as I should have been. Luckily, I regained my yoga mojo and it's back with a vengeance.

It happens to all of us. Life gets too busy, we get bored of our regular routines and classes, maybe even our teachers, and there's a thousand things we'd rather do instead.

No matter how long you've been in your rut for, there's definitely a way out. Here are my 3 tips on how to inject some life back into your practice...

1) Classes Classes Classes! Yup, the best way to gain inspiration if you've lost your own sense of practice is to book yourself on to some yoga classes. I personally love to to go yoga classes that have been recommended to me because the teacher is that fantastic, that my yoga friends go to or that are in studios that I really rate. Ask around, follow other yogis on Instagram and see which classes they are going to, and go along. Try different teachers until you find about 3-5 teachers that you absolutely adore. Yoga is a very personal practice, and the yoga teacher makes or breaks the class, so keep searching for those gems of teachers, the ones that you instantly warm to, that challenge you, that empower you, that you feel you can talk to after class, and that teach from the heart.

2) Grab a friend. A great way to get back into yoga and on to your mat more regularly is to go to classes with a friend. Finding someone in your life who's interested in yoga but might be stronger or more flexible than you is a really great way to get that competitive streak going again! When you lose your yoga mojo, it sometimes just takes a little bit of a competitive spark to re-ignite your love for your practice. Going to yoga classes with a friend or following inspiring yogis on Instagram and attempting the poses that they practise is a sure fire way to give yourself the boost you need. Once you know you've got a lot more to give, a lot more strength in you, and start to see progress, you'll be even more eager to step on to your mat the next day.

3) Stop for a while. It's ok to stop practising yoga for a while. Sometimes, we just need time out. This goes for anything in life - sometimes things that we once absolutely adored can become a task that we "have to do." Maybe you've been putting too much pressure on yourself and have lost the sense of fun and playfulness of yoga. In this case, it's absolutely fine to call it quits for a few weeks, even months, and to see what happens. I guarantee that if you love yoga deep down, you'll be drawn back to your mat one day. Trust the process, let nature do its thing, and don't try to force something that doesn't want to be forced. If its meant to be, if you're meant to come back to yoga, then you will. So let go, trust the timing of your life, and don't beat yourself up about it. Sarah xx

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How to build towards arm balances

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Arm balances are those elusive poses that beginner yogis feel they're never going to be able to do. Believe me, I've been there. I remember the first time I tried kicking up into pincha mayurasana or (forearm balance - pictured above) back in 2014.

I had zero shoulder or arm strength, no idea what parts of my body I needed to activate in order to get up into the pose, stabilise and balance in it, and no experience of falling out of it. And sure enough, I came down with a thud a split second after kicking up against a wall, and I sunk in my shoulders because I wasn't strong enough. How was I ever going to nail arm balances?!

Over the next two years, I kept practising pincha mayurasana here and there, but never really progressed because I still hadn't developed that arm, shoulder and core strength to be able to hold my own bodyweight.

But over the past year, I have been able to kick up into pincha mayurasana and hold it, hold poses such as 8-point-prone pose, fallen angel pose, crow pose and flying pigeon without dumping into my lower back, without sinking in my shoulders, without face planting the floor.

All of this comes after 3 years of regular practise, and building up my strength through the yoga basics (see what I'm getting at...!) If you have a perfect and consistent chaturanga (see the below picture) you will be able to hold various arm balances, because strong chaturanga arms are the foundation of arm balances such as handstand, pincha, crow pose and all of the rest.

Here are my tips on how to progress in your arm balance by perfecting your chaturanga...

1. Elbows hugging into the sides: When I'm teaching, I see so many students lowering down through chaturanga when they haven't built up the strength to maintain the correct form. Most students who are new to yoga wing their elbows out to the sides and do a wide-arm press-up to lower down. This definitely won't help build your tricep muscles! So try some drills, slowly lowering down and keeping your elbows tightly connected to your sides as you do so, then push back up, lower, push back up. Repeat this drill again and again until you start to build strength in the triceps and shoulders. If you aren't strong enough to lower down without your knees on the floor, then drop the knees down, lean your bodyweight forwards, hug the elbows in to the sides and then lower, and repeat.

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2. Shoulders in line with elbows: the key to arm balances is shoulder strength, as with all arm balances you are essentially holding yourself up with your arms and shoulders. You need to be able to hold a plank position with your shoulders in line with your elbows, and maintain this as you bend your elbows and lower all the way down through chaturanga. Again, repeating the drills above with this tip in mind will help you get there, and this is how I've personally built up strength in my shoulders. Keep hugging your shoulders into the midline (meaning: squeeze your shoulder blades together) to keep the shoulders active as you lower through chaturanga. Shoulder strength takes a little while to develop, so the key really is to practise chaturanga consistently.

3. Core strength and stability: Core strength is something that came a little easier to me than the shoulder and arm strength, probably from years of doing more sit-ups than press ups. However in arm balances I still struggle to locate and control my core when I'm upside down! What is core strength and stability anyway? It's not just being able to do as many sit ups as you can. Core strength is a deep activation of the innermost abdominal muscles. Yes, you need strong abdominals, but you also need core stability to be able to hold strength poses and arm balances, and transition between poses. You can have a crazy strong core, but if you don't know how to keep it stable you will never move from arm balance to arm balance with ease. Practising lowering down through chaturanga while maintaining 100% stability of your core will help, as will many other core stability exercises that you can find online. Think about how you move, such as when you're walking, rock climbing or running. You want to be able to maintain core stability, that feeling of activating the core and knowing how to keep the abdominals tightly engaged, while you move from rock to rock, from step to step. This is core stability, and understanding and building your core stability will really take your arm balances to a whole new level. So get practising those chaturanga drills while keeping your core absolutely stable!

4. Breathing: Ultimately the most important part of arm balances, because without breathing properly in poses, you create more tension. Exhaling deeply as you lower down through chaturanga will help you to engage the abdominals, as when you exhale your abdominals naturally contract. Not only will this make the lower down much easier (have you ever tried lowering down on an inhale? Not fun!), but you will be forced into breathing properly in the upward facing dog in vinyasa flow if you practise exhaling as you lower down. So think exhale to lower down through plank chaturanga, inhale to press back up into plank.

Let me know if this helps your arm balances at all!

Sarah

xx

Why practising yoga little and often is best

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My yoga practise has changed a lot over the years. A lot. From 90 minutes once a week when I started practising several years ago, to an hour twice a week a few years later, to 30 minutes to an hour almost everyday currently.

I used to think that I needed to practise one hour to 90 minutes once a week in order to progress, and would dedicate my weekends to fitting in a long and sweaty practise and then leave it for a week until next weekends practise.  And now, I still like to fit in an hour to 90 minutes of yoga in a class each weekend, and appreciate that this kind of practise is great for building strength and flexibility.

But there is a real truth in the saying of little and often. Once I said to myself that I needed to commit to practise yoga everyday, things started to change. It became less of a chore and way more enjoyable, an outlet for my creativity, both mentally and physically. Once I started to practise 15 minutes of yoga after work in the evenings, 15-20 minutes in the mornings or at lunch, and longer practises or classes over the weekend, I noticed myself progressing in poses that had been totally unachievable before. My flexibility increased, which in turn increased my determination to practise even more.

I started becoming more aware of how my body felt day to day and the changes that occurred in my body and mind, and started stepping on to my mat and going with what felt good on that day. Working with what I have right in that moment, and moving accordingly.

So here are my 4 pieces of advice to start practising more frequently, no matter how busy you are:

  1. SET YOUR ALARM 20-30 MINUTES EARLIER.

This one takes a little getting used to if like me you're not much of a morning person. But setting your alarm 20-30 minutes before you need to get up for work in the mornings, and moving slowly to unravel any tension or stiffness that's built up during the night is a great way to tick off your yoga practise before your day has begun. Move with some simple cat-cows and downward facing dogs, some gentle forward folds, anything to wake up the spine, hips and hamstrings.

2.  SCHEDULE IN YOUR CLASSES

The easiest way to commit to practising yoga is by scheduling in your yoga classes before the start of the week. Book that Friday evening Vinyasa class or Sunday morning Yin, and get it in the diary. This way, you know that you're definitely going to have a longer practise in during your week, so you've already committed yourself to showing up.

3. LAY OUT YOUR MAT

This one is key for me. Find a space in your house that feels cosy, personal and spacious. Personalise this space with whatever makes you happy, for me that's a vase of flowers, my yoga props, maybe a candle for the evenings. Roll out your mat and keep it there. Then every time you go to practise, your space is already there waiting for you. Minimal effort, maximum results.

4. FIND WAYS TO FIT YOGA IN

Another goodie. Start to constantly look for times to fit yoga into your life. Maybe you work long hours at a desk? Try slipping off to a quiet part of your office, finding a free room, or heading to the park during lunch, and just practise a few forward folds, downward dogs and sun salutations for 15 minutes. You can even practise hip openers just by sitting at your desk. Try sitting cross-legged on your chair rather than your feet on the floor, which shortens your hamstrings and tightens your hips. This will immediately stretch your hips and make that next yoga class a little less of a shock to the system (and hips!). Even before bed, can you step on to your mat and practise yoga for 15 minutes instead of an extra 15 minutes watching TV? Start looking for ways to fit yoga in, and you'll soon find that you were making excuses before, and that there are plenty of solutions!

Finally, definitely don't beat yourself up if you only manage to fit in 5 minutes everyday instead of 30 minutes. Start with baby steps. A little yoga here, a little yoga there. Maybe you'll find that things open up and 5 minutes turns into 15. And 15 minutes of yoga everyday equals to 7.6 hours a month. That's already better than practising 1 hour a week, which equals 4.3 hours per month.

I hope this helps,

Sarah

xxx

 

 

 

 

My 10 Minute Sequence To Keep Your Spine Young

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Guess how many bones we have in our spine? 33 vertebrae. Three Three. That’s a lot. And think about it – we spend most of our day sitting or lying down (work, driving, trains, sleep) and not actively using or stretching these vertebrae. Healthy spine? I think not.

That's why I practise this super quick 10 minute yoga sequence a few times a week to keep my spine young, flexible and healthy - because let's face it, despite all that spinach we eat, no one's getting any younger (sorry to be blunt).

THE SEQUENCE

Practise this sequence twice round until your body feels warmer and more ready for deeper backbends.

Tadasana, variation

30 seconds, 4–5 breaths, each time

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From Tadasana pose, interlace your fingers 
behind your back. Squeeze those glutes, shoulder blades, and forearms together. Push your pelvis (think hips) forwards and bring your chin toward your chest. Look forward while holding the pose and try to let the breath find its own natural rhythm. Inhale to come back to Tadasana, but 
keep your fingers interlaced.

Standing Half Splits, variation 

30 seconds, 4–5 breaths, each side

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Bend forward until your belly touches your left thigh. Try to maintain a backbend. Then slowly 
raise your right leg, both arms, and your head. Point your right toes, look at the ground slightly forward of your foot and try hard to not topple over into a heap on the floor (yes, I've done this many times, luckily in private). Repeat on the other leg.

Low Lunge, variation

30 seconds, 4–5 breaths, each side.

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From Standing Half Splits, bend your left knee and gently lower your right foot and knee to the floor, coming into a Low Lunge. Release your hands by your sides, and reach your left arm out to the side, then bend your elbow until your left hand is between your shoulder blades with the palm facing back. Raise your right arm and bend the elbow, reach down and grab it with your left hand, interlacing your fingers together. Turn your eyes up to the ceiling in order to get that backbend, try to balance and take long, slow breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Revolved Side Angle Pose, variation

1 minute, 8–10 breaths, each side

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Place your left foot on the floor and your right knee behind it, so you're in a lunge position on one knee. (Tip: you can fold a blanket under your knee if they feel a bit unloved). Place your right upper arm against the outer left thigh and put your palms together into a prayer pose. Twist, focusing on starting the twist from the base of your spine, up the torso and turning your head over to left, eyes looking slightly up. Exhale and twist a teensy bit deeper. Repeat on the other side.

THE TAKEOUT

After this sequence you should be feeling pretty loose in your spine, like you've had a gooooood massage. Practise this a few times a week, or better yet - every night before bed - and you'll be on the right track to maintaining a flexible, youthful spine well into your nineties. If you're really feeling like a superhero after this, you can try Bridge Pose, or if you're a fully fledged Yogi, try slowly pushing into Full Wheel Pose and practise some variations.

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Peace out.

x

6 effective ways to help you stick to your New Year’s Resolutions

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New Year’s Resolutions can seem rather like a daunting pledge to overhaul our lives, to change ourselves and those annoying habits that we just can’t seem to break in the space of a year. The easiest part of New Year’s Resolutions is indeed making them, but the hardest part is sticking to them amidst our busy and frequently complicated lives. If you need more persuasion of how hard your willpower has to work to keep your resolutions, these statistics might convince you. A ComRes poll for Bupa in 2016 found that out of 2,014 adults interviewed about their New Year’s Resolutions, 86% admitted to breaking theirs less than one year in, while 43% admitted that theirs didn’t even last a month. I can put my hands up and admit that whenever I’ve made New Year’s Resolutions in the past – ahem, “I will read a new book every month” – I’ve just forgotten about them come February – life got in the way and new challenges cropped up that made my previous goals seem totally unrealistic.

Unfortunately, the beginning of the year is one of the worst times to make a major change in your habits because it’s often a relatively stressful time. It’s right in the middle of the back-to-work mayhem and getting back on track with things like finances, work and health after the Christmas break.

If you’re struggling to stick to your resolutions, if your will power is waning already, or if you haven’t even made any, then these 6 steps are here to help you successfully stick to whatever goals, resolutions or changes you want to make. I’ll be using them to help me stick to my own goals, of which I have 3 positive ones:

  1. Practice yoga everyday and vary it according to my needs, whether I need a soothing 15 minutes of lying twists or a longer Vinyasa practice to kick my ass into gear.
  2. End my day with meditation and a book, instead of Instagram.
  3. Start cycling to work, both to save money and be more active.

Here’s my 6 tips for how to stick to your goals.

  1. Start small and get specific

If you’ve made resolutions that seem daunting and you don’t know where to start, strip them back. Sit for a few minutes with your eyes closed and just think of one or two things that you would absolutely love to change in your life. One thing that would bring you more positivity, happiness and peace. If you find yourself thinking “that’s totally unrealistic”, your goal is probably too vague. If your goal is to get fitter, what does that really mean? Do you want to get leaner, stronger, more able to run long distance or to lift 50kg in the gym? Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART).

  1. Break your goal(s) into a series of time-based steps

Focus on creating sub-goals that are measurable and time-based. For example, if you set yourself the goal of saving more money, mark down regular monthly points in your diary of how much you want to have saved by then. Keep focusing on how much you’re saving in the run up to that point, so it doesn’t creep up on you and come as a total shock. This is a great way to measure your success throughout the year, and you can edit your savings goal as you go along.

  1. Anticipate your problems

If you are realistic with the problems that are going to crop up on the way, then you’ll be better equipped to deal with them when they do. For example, if your goal was to start running outdoors, and you know that when you get home from work this is the last thing you feel like doing, try running home from work a couple of times a week instead. Once you’ve identified all the times that will probably be hard, work out ways to cope with them.

  1. To be more productive, take more breaks

Resolutions are usually based on productivity, for example exercising more or cooking more meals at home. However, doing more can lead to exhaustion and a lack of quality in the things that you do. The best thing to help yourself do more, is to do less. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that frequent, short breaks throughout the day can make you even more productive. Try to incorporate frequent meditation breaks into your day, by finding a quite space to sit and close your eyes for 5 minutes, take some deep inhalations and long exhales and just let your mind and body start to reset.

  1. Use your environment to help

This is a simple way to help you stick to your resolutions by using your environment to make things a little easier. Re-organise your surroundings to reflect whatever your goal is, both in a way that requires minimum effort for you to achieve it, and as a source of inspiration. Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage discovered that just 20 extra second of “activation effort” – the energy it takes to get started – is enough to cause most people not to do an activity. So make it really easy to stick to your goals. For example, if your resolution was to do some form of exercise 5 days a week, pack your gym kit in your bag each evening before work, and follow some Instagram accounts that will inspire your workouts.

  1. Tell your friends and family your goals

Tell your friends and family your resolutions and ask them to keep you accountable, by checking in with you every week via text or a short phone call. You can do the same for them, so that you’re both encouraging each other to keep going. This is a great way to keep you motivated when you’re feeling stressed or too busy, as you can talk about your difficulties and share advice. Yes, it takes some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at, but to dramatically increase your odds of success you’ll want support from those around you. It’s easy to break a promise to yourself, but far harder to admit it to a friend.

Whatever your plans and goals are for 2017, don’t place any limitations on them. Make them as small or as life-changing as you like, and go for them. I hope these tips will help you succeed in achieving your goals and I’ll be cheering you on as I work on mine!

Check out the original article here!

http://healthylivinglondon.com/wellbeing/how-to-stick-to-your-goals