Turtles and Yoga

During a recent holiday in Sri Lanka earlier this year, we visited a Turtle sanctuary

Turtles are something I knew very little about, but after around 40 minutes at the sanctuary, I discovered how fascinating turtles are, and how one key fact about them has a strong parallel with yoga and meditation

Turtles have been in existence for around 100 million years. It’s now believed that the overall, global population of turtles is around one million. A female turtle lays around 100 eggs three times a year. Amazingly, from the eggs they lay, only 10% of them survive

Turtles can live up to 130 years old. Interestingly, the liver, kidneys and lungs for a 100-year old turtle are indistinguishable from immature turtles

Turtles vary in size, but are typically between 1 metre and 2 metres in length. Their weight varies from 250kg to almost 700kg for the largest ‘Leatherback’ turtles

The biggest predator and threat to turtles is man. Some countries continue to hunt, sell and eat turtles. Turtles are also endangered by plastic bags, bottles, fishing nets and motorised blades. Climate change is another huge threat

When we visited the turtle sanctuary, we were able to pick up and hold baby turtles. We could also see and touch larger adult turtles in some of the tanks there. Most of the adult turtles were there due to injury or physical issues

A few other fascinating facts: turtles live their lives both on land and in the sea. They swim thousands of kilometres around the world, but, incredibly, return to their original place of birth to lay their eggs. As part of their diet they eat various species of poisonous fish, especially jelly fish around Europe

So where is the parallel with yoga? I learnt that turtles are generally gentle creatures, that typically ‘go with the flow’. When they are swimming and under water, they are able to slow their heart beat to the unbelievable rate of just once every nine minutes. They do this to conserve oxygen when they’re under water, for as long as five hours at a time

The fact that they can slow their heart rate so dramatically is a major factor in their ability to live such long lives, and maintain their key internal organs (liver, lungs and kidneys) in such great condition

Yoga and meditation are proven to have a beneficial effect on the nervous system. Developing and maintaining a slow, even rate of breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, by triggering the vagus nerve, thus lowering heart rate and blood pressure. It induces feelings of calmness and well-being 

So there you have it! Turtles are living proof that by living a relatively stable life, and through managing their own heart rate, they can live long and healthy lives. A regular practice of yoga and meditation can help us simple human beings to do the same

Turtle 2.jpg

Yoga mats

Several of my Yogis have asked me during the past few months for recommendations for yoga mats

A yoga mat is a very personal thing, and can make quite a difference to the comfort and feel of your personal practice. Yoga mats can also be pretty expensive, and it’s important therefore to get it right

Over the years I’ve had a variety of mats. I started with a fairly cheap mat I bought on Amazon for around £20, which seemed ok until I started my teacher training, and realised I needed a decent mat to cope with everyday use. I bought a rubber mat which was being pioneered by a Yogi from the US, and whilst it was comfortable, it was very slippy

When I began teaching, I bought a Manduka ProLite, which I’ve been really pleased with. Long-lasting - it’s actually guaranteed for life - totally non-slippy, and comfortable. However I left this at our yoga retreat house in France last autumn rather than bring it back and forth each time

I decided to buy a Jade Harmony Yoga mat, which had good reviews. This mat is made of rubber, and also came in a variety of colours. I chose the orange which looks great. I was initially very pleased with the mat. It provided excellent grip and comfort. However, I couldn’t get rid of the smell of rubber. I always wipe mats with a damp e-cloth after use, and despite many, many wipe cleans - and also a deep wash and scrub, as well as hanging the mat out in the open air, the smell remained. It started to really irritate me, especially doing mat-based poses

So I decided to cut my losses, and get another mat. I’ve just bought another Manduka mat - a Manduka Pro. It’s heavy, quite thick (6mm rather than the usual 4mm) - and I love it. It grips superbly - absolutely no sliding about. Irregardless of its thickness, the mat is solid, so balancing poses are a breeze. I’m already familiar with the hardwearing properties of Manduka mats, and I’m confident this will last me for many years

My studio mats are from the ‘sticky’ mat range from Yogamatters. They’re also hard-wearing, and I find they will last up to around 20 months before replacing

A mat that’s recently caught my eye is from the Divine Goddess range from Australia. I’ve been trialling one, thanks to the UK distributor . It’s made from recycled TPE, and the mats are completely biodegradable. They also have excellent grip, and at £37 are very affordable

Some of my Yogis have bought Manduka Eko mats, which they’re pleased with. These mats are rubber, but don’t have the lingering smell. I know several people who’ve bought the Liforme mats, which they are delighted with. The Lululemon mats are also supposed to be pretty good too

In summary, there are simply loads of yoga mats to choose from. So take your time, and consider different mats before purchasing - perhaps ask your friends to try their mats if they don’t mind. And like guitars and bikes, maybe you can’t have too many mats!

Why I teach yoga

I decided to teach yoga in 2015. One of my aims was to introduce more people to yoga, particularly men. I find there’s often a reluctance amongst men to practice yoga. Usually it’s their own misconception that yoga is more a ‘woman’s thing’, or that mens’ bodies - especially older men - are too stiff. Nothing could be further from the truth!

I teach both women and men. Over 40% of the people who come to my classes are male. I teach young guys in their 20’s to older men in their 60’s and 70’s. Amongst my male yogis are farmers, builders, plumbers, businessmen, company directors, and men in their retirement. Their body shapes range from muscular to thin, overweight to underweight, some are flexible, others arrive very stiff. All of them have discovered that by regularly attending classes, their bodies have loosened up, their balance is much improved, and that their minds are more relaxed. Above all, they enjoy their yoga

Last week, I taught a guy who’d been doing some work on my house. He explained he was stiff and often suffered back pain. He’d never done yoga before. We did a gentle 1-to-1 together. As the practice continued, I noticed how he started to relax, and deepen his breathing. He became absorbed in the flow of the yoga, letting go. When we finished, the expression on his face said it all. He looked happy and supremely relaxed. He emailed me the following day to say he continued to feel relaxed all evening, and that he slept really well. He’s now looking forward to building a regular yoga practice into his lifestyle

I know how he feels. I’ve been there - and keep going back for more. The yogis who come to my classes tell me the same. That’s why I teach yoga

Yoga Retreat in France - May 2018

We held our first "Tenterden Yoga" retreat in France in May 2018

This took place at our house on the Limousin / Dordogne border. Eight yogis came out for six days

The yoga took place in the galleried loft at our house, and we ate together in our dining room below. All meals were prepared and cooked by my amazing wife Patricia - www.passionatefood.co.uk. The visiting yogis stayed at a lovely b&b three minutes walk away - www.lavieillemaisondepensol.com

The retreat was a huge success. We all had a wonderful time, and the feedback from the yogis was fantastic

I have very fond memories of our time together, and several points in particular stand out: -

  • the warmth and closeness we all experienced - yoga just brings lovely people together

  • the friendship and generosity extended by everyone to everyone

  • the way our house came alive; although we didn't know this at the time we renovated our house, our loft was built for yoga

  • through a series of classes and workshops, how the yogis noticed the benefits both physically and mentally

  • how small but key things, such as the bandhas, made such a difference to their practice

  • how much I appreciated working alongside Patricia, both of us doing what we each love, and coming together to produce a wonderful experience

We will be running another retreat in September this year (which is already fully booked)

Next year (2019) we will be running two more retreats in May, and another one or two in September


Our 'yoga' loft

Our 'yoga' loft

Yoga in the garden of La Vieille Maison

Yoga in the garden of La Vieille Maison

Was that really yoga?

Over the years, I've been to many different yoga classes. Some have been great, some have been good, and others were just OK

Today I had an interesting experience. I went to the worst yoga class I've ever been to

I'm not saying where for obvious reasons, but I'd like to explain why I felt the experience was so bad

It's pretty clear that the class was quite unique to the studio and the teacher. Many of the poses were totally new to me: I've not seen or practiced them ever before

In theory that's OK. I'm up for learning new postures. But that was the problem - learning them! The teacher was largely inaudible (and I was at the front of the class!). This was compounded by the fact the teacher also spoke fast, and didn't use any of the usual terminology (in either English or Sanskrit) for the poses

The teacher walked around the room, but there was no individual correction or adjustment. I felt like a complete novice as I was reduced to watching other people - regulars I assumed - but many of them didn't seem to be getting it right either

To call this a yoga class is a bit like trying to play football with a rugby ball

What was of more concern was that many of the poses today could have resulted in injury. As a teacher myself, I'm obviously aware of the right way to move in and out of yoga poses. However, in the class I went to today, there was virtually no formal instruction. Just a basic demonstration for some of the poses. This was an open class, yet a less experienced yogi could have really hurt themselves

Yoga, to me, is many things, but largely about the breath and relaxing the mind. There are times when I really enjoy a dynamic, physical class - (Ashtanga, Hot Yoga, Power Yoga etc) - providing it's done in a controlled, correct and safe way. The class I attended today was about as far removed from relaxing the mind as an argument

The class ended in a series of standing poses. That was it. No Savasana. No relaxation. Goodbye!

Sadly, I came away questioning whether the teacher was actually qualified to teach. Needless to say, I won't be going back

It's a shame. I was looking forward to the class, and learning something new. On the other hand, no opportunity is wasted. It reinforced to me (once again) how thorough and professional my yoga teacher training was. In summary, there are many different syles of yoga. It's all a matter of personal preference and choice. Irregardless of the style however, it is important that yoga is taught properly, and that the classes are safe and enjoyable.

Healing yoga

I'm lucky enough to benefit from consistent good health. Over the years, I've learned to listen to my body and take care of myself when I notice something isn't right

This can apply to injuries, such as muscle or joint pain, or even something as simple as the common cold, which fortunately I rarely seem to succumb to

However, in October I caught what seemed the mother of all viruses. I'm certain it was flu. Despite having had the flu jab for many years, including this year in September, I started going downhill with a temperature, which led to the sweats, the shivers, muscular pain, headache, and then a cold followed by a lingering chesty cough. It's taken me two weeks to get over this, and for most of the time, I felt totally wiped out. I also lost a couple of kilos too

I realise that none of us are immune to colds and viruses, however healthy we feel. Indeed, look at the amount of athletes who seems to pick up more than their fair share

It emphasised to me once again how important it is to look after ourselves during times of illness. Extreme self care! Eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of fluids, and getting plenty of rest

I realised that during this time, it was the longest I've gone without doing yoga, for several years in fact. During the first week, it couldn't have been further from my mind. However, during the second week, and as I resumed teaching, my body began to yearn for yoga. For the first few classes, I simply taught without joining the practice, but last night, even though I didn't think I was ready to do yoga, I found I couldn't stop myself

I started with some gentle stretches, and moved into some slow asanas, and began to get into the flow. By the end of the class, I had completed a full practice. And I felt absolutely fantastic - almost euphoric. I didn't realise quite how much I had missed practicing yoga. My body felt better and stronger, my chest and sinuses felt clearer, and my mind was full of contentment and peace

I joined in whilst teaching another class this morning, and came away with the same high!

I absolutely love teaching, and the yogis who come to my classes are all delightful people who greatly inspire me. Yet the simple act of practicing yoga has confirmed to me once again how lucky I am to have yoga as a huge, integral part of my life. 

Paying attention and being in the moment

I recently read a great blog by Leo Babauta titled ‘Why I’m always in a hurry, and what I’m doing about it’

This resonated with me. I’m often in a hurry, not because I’m running late, but because I want to achieve more

In fairness to myself, I’ve been making a conscious effort over the last few years to slow down. This is largely thanks to yoga, which has taught me how to find stillness in the mind through practicing yoga on a regular basis

But there are some areas of my life, where I still tend to rush, because I want to get through more. One example is reading. There is so much out there I want to read - books, articles, blogs etc. Rather than accept I can’t read them all, I often hurry my reading so I can get through as much as possible

This is ridiculous, because I sometimes miss key points when I read too fast, and instead of being pleasurable, the act of reading itself becomes onerous

Through what I do, both as a recruiter and a yoga teacher, I’m constantly talking with people about their lifestyles. It seems a lot of us are very similar. We’re all trying to pack as much into our lives as we can

One of the dangers in trying to get through stuff fast, and achieve more and more, is that the detail suffers. On major tasks, most people are aware of this, and take the time to get the detail right. But on quicker, less important tasks (especially internet related), it’s easy to rush through the detail

A common situation is that people press the ‘send’ button without checking through the email they’ve written. So attachments are forgotten, spelling is poor, words are missed out, dates and times are incorrect

Worse still is when detail is overlooked on more important things, like booking flights, and inserting incorrect passport details, or getting dates wrong. Or people order stuff online, but in their haste, they overlook the detail and not get what they want

Multi-tasking is something that sharply divides opinion. Some people are intensely proud of the fact they can do several things at the same time. Others, including myself, believe that to get things done properly, they need full, undivided attention

And this - surely - is the thing; by paying attention to what we’re doing, we don’t just get it right, but it makes the experience more enjoyable. Taking the time to complete even mundane tasks gives us the confidence that they’re done properly

Taking the time to do things we want to do, irregardless what they are, makes the whole process so much more enjoyable. Why? Because we’re in the zone. Smelling the roses (and any other cliché you want!). But they’re true. Because we’re ‘being in the moment’, and when we are there, we become more relaxed, we do it better, and we can appreciate more of what we enjoy doing

This is especially important when we’re interacting with other people, especially those who we’re close to. It’s too easy to dismiss others due to lack of time, or interest. There are fewer annoying things when you’re talking to someone, and they’re fiddling with their phone. They pretend they are there, but they’re not. Their attention is diverted. It’s offensive and it’s irritating. It’s also potentially dangerous; for example parents texting as their children play

I remember a story attributed to Bill Clinton, that he had the ability, even as President of the US, to make whoever he was talking to feel like the only person in the room. He focused his attention purely on them, and in doing so, he made them feel very special

It’s a proven fact, that it’s not what you say that people remember, it’s how you make them feel

So whatever we’re doing, maybe we should just ease up, and stop greedily cramming our lives full of stuff. Turn off the self-indulgence, and just let go of the need to have it all and do it all

In his blog, Leo talked about the practice of generosity. He described generosity as turning away from our self-centred view, and start turning towards other people. Or turning to each moment, giving it the gift of our focus

 What a great idea - practice being more generous. To ourselves and to others. To learn how to pay full attention to whatever we’re doing, to get more fun and satisfaction out of what we're doing, and just appreciate being in the moment

Don't force your way in ...

I heard a great quote recently from a yoga teacher (Jeff Phenix). He was explaining to a student the importance of moving gradually into a pose

His advice was "Yoga is polite. Don't force your way in; wait to be asked"

Taking this in context, these are great words of wisdom. Too often yoga students will force themselves into a pose. They push too quickly and too hard, trying to go further and further. When all that's really needed is to move gently into a position, and then slowly move deeper

The dangers of forcing oneself into a pose result in over-stretched muscles and inflamed joints. Or worse!

The benefits of moving gradually into a pose is that the practitioner can feel their way in, and then decide how much further they can - or want to - go. The movement can be linked with the breath, so that the pose can be gently developed and flow naturally

Yoga isn't about being competitive or pushing yourself super hard

So "in the eye of the pose", don't force your way in - wait to be asked. And move gently

New Year - new intentions

A new year - a great time to set new goals, new challenges, new aspirations

It seems the most popular theme is to get fit and lose weight (if you believe what's written in the press and social media). Admirable intentions. I wonder how many people will stick to them.

Because getting fit and losing weight are lifestyle decisions. The implications are long-term, as indeed will be the results. Any lifestyle decision requires serious resolve, commitment, and self-discipline. I wish anyone embarking on these challenges good luck. As the French say, "Bon Courage".

Project goals are always interesting: from DIY to leisure pursuits to 'bucket list' holidays. Some friends of mine are committing to new physical challenges, such as completing the North Downs Walk (a goal that will take them a year to achieve). Others are saving for and planning a major holiday trip, following their dreams to go where they've always wanted to

Some people are committed to changing their job, and improving their skills, earnings, work/life balances - whatever's going to float their particular boats

This year, I've decided to commit myself to a new phrase, something which I'm going to remind myself several times a day throughout the year. I'm fascinated to see where this will take me and what will happen as a consequence

The phrase? "Light touch". What does that mean? To me, it means not taking some things so seriously, or getting bogged down in unnecessary detail or focus. Not using force or over-pushing. Taking a lighter-hearted view of things. Looking for the beauty, the meaningful, the fun in life. I'm going to endeavour to apply a light touch across almost everything I do. In conversation, in my work, travel, food, viewpoints, relationships, yoga ... the list is endless

Why? Because I know when I do apply a lighter touch, I get more out of whatever I'm doing - more enjoyment, a better result, greater satisfaction, more fun. Let's see where this goes!