Holding Space

Yoga can be a spiritual practice, for others, an exercise routine, and for some, just time away from their regular life events, where they can focus purely on themselves.

 

For each student, the teacher must hold the space. Creating an environment free from the distractions of the mind, where the concepts of yoga, as interpreted by the instructor, can be delivered in a non-judgemental, loving environment.

 

This is easy enough when all your students arrive in a great mood, ready to absorb whatever you have to offer.

 

But this isn’t always the case.

 

Students are humans, with human emotions, and there are many reasons why someone can show up to your class and shift the vibe. Bad day, bad mood, bad traffic.

 

I recently taught a class where the tense energy hit me immediately.

 

I teach yoga in English, in a country where English is not the native language. This, for the most part, has rarely been an issue. I’ve always admired how Europeans can switch between two, (or more) languages, like it ain’t no thang.

 

On this occasion though, I was subbing for a German-speaking teacher. This wasn’t regarded by the studio as such a big deal, since everyone else there teaches in English, and students are aware of this fact. I had one regular show up, she was fun and full of (way too much) energy for 7am. And then a couple arrives. I say hello and introduce myself, and that I’m subbing today. This is their first time at the studio. They ask the other student if this class is in German and she says, usually yes, but the regular teacher is away. Cue tension.

 

I don’t blame them. They’ve shown up to a yoga class in their country, one would expect it to be taught in their language. It was incredible how palpable the energy shift was.

 

Then from my end, these guys brought their own mats, so my initial thoughts are; they’re advanced yogis. The guy has a ponytail resembling David Life of Jivamukti yoga, and I’m immediately scared that not only have they got a teacher who speaks only English, but they are also in a class that isn’t advanced enough for their ponytail-wielding practice. Cue panic.

 

We roll out the mats and I say hi and welcome everyone (all three, it is 7am), and explain how this class works. It’s a ‘different’ kind of studio, so things don’t run quite like a normal yoga class. I’m nervous about their reaction to this too. I jump out of the class to close the gate, (something we do while the students have a chat and get to know each other’s practice), and I use this moment to collect my thoughts.

 

I feel nervous. I’m subbing for another teacher who’s style I don’t know. The regular has told me she usually goes to Thursday morning classes, which are harder, advanced classes, taught by one of the most incredible teachers. Plus, I’ve got these two newbies who speak little English and I’m convinced are advanced yogis (because of the ponytail).

 

I breathe.

 

I decide I’m going to teach the class I had planned. A grounding, balanced practice, perfect to start the day. I’m going to teach the way I do it. With playfulness, humour, and lots of alignment cues. Which maybe no one will understand. I walk back into the class.

 

The ponytail guy says it’s like a yoga and English class in one. I’m not sure if he’s happy or annoyed about this. I begin.

 

I start with simple pranayama to come into the space, and also because it’s 7am. (And also because I kinda needed it). I notice eyes open every time I give the next instruction, which I totally expected since words alone wouldn’t quite be enough this time.

And then we start to move, start to flow.

 

Ponytail isn’t advanced at all. Neither is the regular. I got it all wrong!

 

I slip my first joke in. Couple of laughs. Ok. *Nodding head in happily surprised way.

 

The vibe begins to change. The students smile as I ask them to come into a tricky balance, they take deep breaths when I cue them. I’m also enjoying this.

 

We come to the end where we sit in gratitude for our practice, and after Namasté, they sit peacefully, absorbing the effects of what preceded.

 

I apologised at the end, in German, for only speaking English, and they brushed it off like it wasn’t even an issue. Huh? This is a change.

 

After pouring some tea, the woman tells me that she really enjoyed the class and asks me when is my usual time? She even takes one of my business cards. Ponytail gives me the double thumbs up, and they both ask for a hug on the way out. I was beaming!

 

At the beginning of the class, I wasn’t feeling good about teaching to this group. I had made a judgement (which turned out to be wrong), and based on that judgement, I was scared.

 

The reason, I believe, that the energy of the class was completely different in the end, was because I acknowledged that I felt that way. I knew I didn’t feel comfortable, so I had to figure out a way that I would be able to hold the space for students that maybe entered their practice in a not-so-great state of mind either.

 

I taught the way I always do. Authentically me.

 

I didn’t try to change who I was and how I instructed to try to appeal to what I thought was the attitude of the group, but instead, I taught a yoga class. I did what I know how to do. I didn’t let the mood of my students (or myself) affect how I taught that day.

 

Through breath, and movement, and laughter, we shifted nervous energy into a warm, genuine connection. And it is only through controlling our own thoughts and taking ownership of our feelings, that we’re able to move that energy into something different. Like hugs.

Losing Weight

Today I did something that past-me never would have done…

 

I uploaded a video to YouTube, where my belly makes quite the appearance.

 

I don’t ever put much thought into my outfits, and I just bought these new, comfy, amazing pants that I wanted to wear, which I paired with one of my favourite crops.

 

This meant a bit of skin was on display. And then once I started moving around, a lot more skin.

 

This is something today-me did do… She didn’t care.

 

I’ve been thinking lately about my body. It’s had a rough ride. Haven’t they all? But the strange this is, I’m definitely the heaviest I’ve ever been (although I don’t get on the scales, I can just tell) yet I’m also the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my skin.

 

I love that meme, where it says; I wish I was as fat as the first time I thought I was fat. Ha! How I wasted my skinny days wanting to be thinner!

 

If I could swallow a magic pill and transform into Elle Macpherson circa 1999 (jeez, circa now probably!) I would. But no magic pill exists and instead I have the body I’m in.

 

A body that likes wine and chocolate and must have a biscuit with every cup of tea.

 

Maybe some folks back home will look at this video and say; “Hmm, Hanna’s put on a bit of weight.” Maybe I have.

 

But what about the weight that I’ve lost?

 

The weight of trying to be a certain size. To look a certain way.

 

The weight of worrying about how other people see me. Of what they think. I’ve lost this weight.

 

I’ve completely lost the weight of caring if my stomach is sticking out. Because that same stomach is strong. Underneath those rolls is a core that lets me stand on my head and hold plank for a really long time (if I wanted to). I work on my core so I have a strong back, and good posture, not because I care if my skin offends you.

 

Those hips that have a bit of extra meat on them are super flexible, and the shoulders that have thickened out are helping me practice handstands.

 

The butt is perkier. All those warrior poses have paid off.

 

Sometimes I wish my rolls wouldn’t go over my yoga pants, but to be honest, I don’t really care.

 

One day I’ll tell you about the version of me that never would’ve said this stuff, and never would have put that video on YouTube. That’s a hell of a story and imperative to why I came to yoga in the first place, but for now, the celebration.

 

Of not giving a fuck that I don’t have a 15-year-old body. I don’t want one! This body is strong, and flexible, and likes chocolate and wine a little too much. But it’s mine, and I love it for all the things it CAN do.

 

How much weight could you lose?

 

 

 

 

Begin.

I vividly remember being a beginner.

 

My first ever yoga class was at a local gymnasium, in a tiny, corporate-carpeted room, with an instructor called Graham. He was great. Such a good teacher for beginners.

 

Graham focussed a lot on the breath, and the more I teach students of all levels, the more value I give to this important cue. Really, the only cue that spans all levels of yogi. Inhale. Exhale.

 

I remember when he said to stretch out my arms for a reclined twist, and then to take a deep breath in, and stretch them out even more on the exhale. It’s amazing what subtle movements we’re able to do when we focus solely on the power of the breath. I had discovered something.

 

I don’t remember too much about how good (or bad) I was, I mostly just remember how I would feel during and after class. It’s funny how you can embrace the fact that you’re a total newbie, and you kind of accept that you’re not going to nail these poses, and that’s totally ok. It takes the pressure off.

 

I remember being excited about sharing what I had learnt with my cousin who had been doing yoga for a while longer than me.

 

Recently, I’ve started teaching my mom yoga. She’s a total beginner. Like I was. Like we all were, once.

 

Being at the beginning is such an incredible place to be. For anything. Everything is new, some things are difficult, sometimes you surprise yourself, and always, you learn.

 

In a famous quotation from Zen Buddhism, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

 

It’s scary to be a beginner. But it’s also so exciting. And without sounding too cheesy, it’s a gift.

 

There are things you’re going to respond to straight away, and there are things that are going to take a little more time.

 

Sharing what I’ve learnt with my mum has been a challenge for myself. I am beginning again. I’d never taught a class specifically for beginners, and I’ve certainly never done that on camera. (Mum lives on the opposite side of the world to me).

 

One of the things I love about yoga is that I’m still learning. So much. There are times I still feel like a total beginner, and now I relish that feeling. The place of newness, and exploration, of childlike curiosity about what’s happening. What comes next.

 

Yoga can be intimidating if you’re new. The spacious, shiny studios. The ballerina instructors with perfect skin and those damn yoga pants. I get it. It’s new, and new can be scary. Know that you’re not alone in those feelings. But also, (I love a good cliché), you’ll never know unless you try. Right?

 

And if you’re not quite ready to get into a studio, you can share my mom’s practice, in the living room, in your pyjamas, if you like. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsXOiV3I3uhsp2hiLvIheTw

 

Enjoy. Don’t judge yourself. Inhale. Exhale. Oh, the possibilities!

YouTube Yogi

So I did it!

 

I released my first yoga video to YouTube.

 

Some of you have seen it already, some of you may have even done the practice. Thank you. And thank you an extra bit if you subscribed. You’re a legend.

 

I can’t even tell you how excited I am about this. Truly excited. Not even scared. (A little bit scared).

 

If you know me, you know I love and adore Yoga with Adriene. I have practiced with Adriene more than any other yogi in the world. I also love to take online classes with the incredible Jess Rose.

 

I just love doing yoga online.

 

Early in my yogi days I would get into a studio once a week. And by studio, I mean RSL hall across from a primary school.

 

Yoga for me never felt pretentious. I’ve been lucky.

 

I know there are a lot of people out there who want to try yoga but are scared that they don’t ‘look’ like a yogi. They aren’t flexible enough. Whatever it is.

 

These fears come up when we are among other people. We feel judged. We look around the room to check if we’re doing it right, we see someone face-planting their leg and think we need to as well. Not true. But, I get it. I used to do it too.

 

But then I found the wonders of the Internet and discovered an at-home yoga practice.

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve practiced in my pyjamas. Or in a dress, because I couldn’t be bothered squeezing into my yoga pants.

 

Bra off – tits hanging about in downward-facing dog. Ah! The at-home yoga experience.

 

Plus, there’s no need to dedicate an hour or more out of a busy day to gain the benefits of yoga. Twenty minutes, generally, is my ideal yoga time.

 

I’ve gained so much from practicing at home.

 

I don’t compare myself to anyone in the class. And I don’t compare myself to the teacher either, because a good yoga instructor doesn’t make you feel like you need to push your body into doing something it’s just not ready to do.

 

I spend more time focussing on my breath, and less time worrying about the lady behind me staring at the back fat poking out of my sports bra.

 

I have developed my practice in leaps and bounds. Being able to practice for just a small amount of time, means I have more time to fit it in. Which, in turn, means I practice more often.

 

Plus, I save money.

 

I still love to get into the studio, and doing both in conjunction has been the best.

 

I hate to think I’m copying anyone, and it’s tricky with yoga, because there are only so many poses and so many ways to string them together. There is no copyright on yoga, although I believe Mr Bikram tried. And failed.

 

So, it’s not about copying my mentors. It’s about bringing more of this unpretentious version of yoga into the world.

 

It’s about getting butts on the mat. Because for anyone who’s tried it, you know! You know how good yoga is for your body and mind. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes.

 

I take inspiration from the Adriene’s and Jess’ who’ve come before me, as they took inspiration from their teachers.

 

And I do this to bring yoga into your living room. Bra-free and pants optional. You must be able to breathe, but no other prerequisites required.

 

I bring you these videos with love and a great desire to spread real yoga. And not ‘Real Yoga’ as a brand (although a nice thought), but real yoga. A connection to yourself, and through that, a connection with others and all that exists.

 

Too much?

 

Don’t even worry about it! Just move your arms and legs a bit and the rest will come.

 

I hope you enjoy the channel and the videos to come.

 

With love.

Check out the channel here.

 

 

 

 

Yoga on the Road

Part of being a yogi is keeping up with a regular practice. I’ve always kinda sucked at this, so I recently updated my routine.

 

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and especially now that I don’t have a regular go-to-work-in-the-morning job, it became something I needed to do.

 

So, for the last month, I have woken up, NOT grabbed for my phone, poured myself a giant glass of water with a slice of lemon, I’ve done a bit of yoga, ranging from 10 minutes to one hour, and I finish the morning routine with five minutes of meditation and a quick journal entry of something I’m grateful for. Little bit cheesy, but it can’t hurt.

 

I love this new routine. And it has been really easy to adapt to. I’ve felt good about sticking to something, and the ‘not being on the phone’ part, means that the minute I’m awake, I’m up and out of bed, rather than scrolling mindlessly through social media and getting stuck in a Graham Norton YouTube spiral.

 

Travelling tends to mess with routine.

 

When I knew I was going on a two-week long trip, I also knew I wanted to keep up my morning ritual. Mostly because I know how easily I can fall into old traps.

 

For the first few days, I did it! But now, a whole week in, I may have started to fall.

 

Small hotel rooms, and days packed with kilometres upon kilometres of walking, and seeing and eating, has meant that I’ve slacked off.

 

But in the truest form of denial, here’s how I’ve been managing the ‘routine.’

 

Wake up, don’t look at phone:

This is easy. There is literally no time in the morning to scroll mindlessly. If I’ve been on my phone at all, it’s to take photos, and upload them in one foul swoop at the end of a destination. That way, I’m not being distracted daily with lots of notifications (which I do love to get, I mean, they’re travel photos, everyone loves a bit of that!), but my beloved Graham Norton has been placed on hold.

 

Drink water with lemon:

This I actually have done every day except for the last two mornings when we’ve been staying with family. I bought some lemons at the farmer’s market on our first day and they have seen me through this whole trip. Whilst staying with family though, we’ve been woken with fresh coffee, fruits, breads and conversation. The lemon water won’t mind.

 

Do yoga:

Again, I’ve been pretty good. *Squints eyes and grits teeth.

 

The length of time I’ve been able to practice has been a lot shorter, but even to move my body for ten minutes feels good. When I travel, I usually like to find a local studio to take a class, but since we’re really all over the place, it’s not happened this trip. Plus, my mama’s come all the way from Australia to travel with me, and I want to spend as much time with her as possible.

 

The mat has made its way out a few times, and in some cases, it’s been in front of the most beautiful locations. Yoga on the rocks of Hvar island overlooking the Adriatic? Thank you very much!

 

For those of you who find it a bit tricky to squeeze some mat time in on vacation, here are some tips:

  • Wake up earlier than you want to, and if you don’t want to, don’t worry about it!
  • Hallways work a treat as a space. As do beaches, balconies, and whatever amazing locations you visit when you’re away.
  • Didn’t pack a mat? You can use a towel.
  • Yoga doesn’t always have to be on the floor. Do some seated yoga while you’re in transit on those trains, planes and automobiles.
  • Yoga poses for photo-opportunities count.
  • Bed yoga counts. Always.

 

Five-minute meditation and gratitude journal:

Maybe I’ve not set aside an exact time to do this, and certainly the journal hasn’t moved from my backpack, but actually, meditation and gratitude has been a part of this trip.

 

Every time I’ve been at an incredible location, I take some photos, the occasional yoga pose and Alex hating (but graciously being) an Insta-boyfie, and whatever else I need to do… and then I just take it in.

 

The incredible beauty of mountains, and coast lines, and architecture. The delicious taste of local food and wine. The brilliance of cultures past and present. Take a moment. Take a breath. Meditate on the surroundings and be grateful that you’ve found your way to these astonishing places.

 

The routine will be there again when I’m home, but while I’m away, it’s less important to feel like a dedicated yogi and more important to just feel.

 

Lazy is not a Dirty Word

I’ve been ‘working’ from home for a little while now. What have I achieved? Maybe not as much as I would’ve liked.

 

I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel riddled with anxiety with the thought that I should be doing more, earning more, hustling more. But sometimes, I just can’t get motivated.

 

And not every day. Some days are great. I’ve done a really good yoga session, the dogs have had a huge walk, I’ve achieved all my chores, written a blog, my class made me some coin. Some days are brilliant.

 

Other days, I don’t leave bed until midday, and from bed, make my way to the couch, and bust out three seasons of Transparent.

 

These days make me feel bad.

 

And why, you ask, don’t I just get up off my ass and do the things I do on the ‘good’ days? Well, I can’t quite answer that question. I know I should be doing yoga, and grocery shopping, and all the other things on my list. But all I want to do is be still.

 

I know I’m not alone in these grey days. And not alone in the feelings of guilt and judgement that comes with them. I mean, there’s always something we could be doing, right?

Maybe not.

 

Our brains and bodies need rest. Being busy has become standard. We love telling people how busy we are, what the rest of our day/week/month consists of. Lazy is a dirty word. But maybe we need to give ourselves the time to be inactive. To rest. And to not feel bad about resting. Not to make it worse by telling ourselves we’re lazy and unmotivated and should be doing more. We need to acknowledge what our bodies are telling us they need. What our minds need.

 

I watched the movie, ‘Christopher Robin’ the other day, and Winnie the Pooh so wisely stated, that; “Doing nothing often leads to the best kind of something.” And I do tend to agree with him.

 

It is through my ‘nothing’ days that I’ve reassessed what I need to feel fulfilled in my day. The things that get me going and will prevent those grey thoughts from coming up. Whether it’s working at my local café, taking the dogs out for a bit, preparing dinner. Whatever it is. Sometimes it’s in the days of nothing that I find the clarity to come up with new ideas. My brain isn’t filled with ‘busy’ and I can really collect my thoughts and prioritise the rest of my week.

 

Not every day looks the same. When I’m having a motivated-mood day, I try to get as much done as I can. When I’m having a slumpy day, I let that be the case. I find that when I’m tired and bored, my work is tired and bored. I’m actually better off being lazy, watching a series or reading a book. Making copious amounts of tea, and somewhere in all that, finding the energy to make some food. When I’m feeling good, I notice it and appreciate it even more. I’m more aware of my body and mind, and can really feel that I feel better. I get things done, and often, the good days make up for the other ones.

 

Regardless of the mood, I try to do at least one activity every day that is the same. Whether it’s grabbing a coffee at my local, a 20 minute yoga practice, or walking the dogs. It’s in the repetition of habits that we leave space for our minds to get creative. We’re not overthinking, and we’re not overdoing, we’re just being, and when our brains are at ease we can usually come up with some pretty awesome ideas. Or even just remember to call your mum.

 

Being busy might make us feel productive, but doing nothing often leads to the best kind of something.

 

 

 

The Rules of Yoga

The other day, I came across an article stating ‘how’ you should be doing yoga.

 

Just. No.

 

Of course, there are ways to practice that keep you safe, and yes, these how-to’s should be adhered to, but this article made the practice so inaccessible for so many people. God, I felt guilty reading it and I’m a yoga teacher!

 

These were the ‘rules’:

 

  • Practice yoga on an empty stomach.
  • The best time to do yoga is in the morning before breakfast.
  • Each yoga posture has a purpose and benefits.
  • We can get so much more out of yoga than just exercise—it’s actually a spiritual practice
  • Practicing with awareness is imperative

 

I do not disagree with all of these rules, but let’s break it down.

 

  • Practice yoga on an empty stomach.

Let’s not eat a massive bowl of pasta and garlic bread and then go on to do five rounds of sun salutations. You will throw up. But, a lot of classes are at 7:30pm or 8pm, and are you expected to not have a meal between lunch and dinner? Generally, most people will eat their lunch around midday, and dinner sometime around 6-8pm. Generally. And often, these same people have allocated lunch times in their workplace. They can’t just pop out of the office at 3 or 4pm to have a mini dinner break because their yoga class is at 7 and they can’t have a full stomach so therefore they must starve themselves until afterwards, and potentially be practicing with low blood sugar. Gah!

 

Eat. Give yourself a little bit of a break between food and yoga, but don’t feel like your stomach must be empty. And if you did have a massive meal, take it easy. Yoga will help you digest anyway.

 

  • The best time to do yoga is in the morning before breakfast.

I’m guessing this came from the empty stomach thing. Morning yoga can be great. Sleeping in is also great. There is no ‘best time’ to do yoga. Do yoga when you want to, move your body when you want to. Morning, noon or night.

 

  • Each yoga posture has a purpose and benefits.

Yep. This person’s a master.

 

  • We can get so much more out of yoga than just exercise—it’s actually a spiritual practice.

Ergh! Spiritual. I am not such a massive fan of this word.

Look, yoga has helped me in so, so many ways that are much more than just physical, but, he who searches for enlightenment will not find it. Basically, don’t try too hard. I was put off yoga for a long while because I thought it was for crystal-healing vegans only. There are bunches of mental benefits to yoga, maybe you find a spiritual path through this incredible practice. Maybe you don’t. Or don’t want to. You can still be good to your body and mind.

 

  • Practicing with awareness is imperative.

I would recommend it, but imperative? This peep’s such a yoga bully.

I love to immerse myself in myself when I do yoga. It’s why I do yoga. Getting out of my head is one of the best outcomes of my yoga practice. But do I occasionally think about my washing needing to be hung out, or really getting into the yogi tune that’s playing? Yes. Am I still doing yoga? Yes. Total awareness is a great place to reach, don’t judge yourself if this isn’t achievable every second of every warrior pose.

 

The Rules of Yoga:

Do Yoga. Be safe and don’t beat yourself up. And don’t take it so damn seriously!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving with Awareness

As some of you know, I have recently moved apartments.

 

Moving is crazy enough, but I had no idea how much harder it is when you and no one you know owns a vehicle, your friends are mostly working, oh, and you live on the fourth floor of an early 1900’s building. No lift.

 

Getting the furniture and stuff is fun. Berlin is an amazing recycle-friendly community, and due to previously-mentioned factors, a lot of the time, people will just give things away for free. Purely for the fact they can’t be bothered moving it themselves. Which is great when you don’t have a literal thing to sit on.

 

But then you need to get said free things up four flights of stairs.

 

Luckily, my brawny husband can take the weight of most things, lifting an entire oven down five flights because ‘it’s just easier with one person.’

 

But mostly, lifting requires two people.

 

This is where I come in.

 

This is where yoga comes in.

 

There is absolutely no way I would’ve got out of this move injury free if it wasn’t for the knowledge I have of my own body. Through yoga, I’ve been able to notice very subtle things about the parts of me that just require a little extra attention.

 

For example, I dump weight into my hips a lot. I’ve been asked (more than once) when I’m due, as I stick my belly out, due to having a flexible lower back.

 

My shoulders are super tight, so I tend to slouch (don’t we all), so I remind myself often to sit up tall.

 

And day by day there are things that come up, that I just notice, and take care of.

 

It was this awareness of my whole body, that meant I could carry a 70kg fridge up 108 steps. (108: yogi number. Coincidence?)

 

Engaging the belly, staying strong in the legs, and using my biceps instead of my wrists to carry things were all parts of the move. Yeah, it was harder at the time. But the payoff meant it was necessary.

 

Could I still use a massage? Oh yeah! But did I still manage to teach three yoga classes that week? Yes. With lots of yin.