Edinburgh Catt

A month (and a bit) of Iyengar

I decided to sign myself up to try something new for the New Year and having realised that of the many yoga styles I have tried Iyenger isn't one of them I signed myself up for TWO Iyengar classes, one on a Monday at the University Wellbeing Rooms and one on a Thursday at the iyoga centre.
Its been an interesting and enlightening experience! I have discovered that I sit wrongly! Something I thought I had been managing fine for 35 years or so! (Sitting crosslegged my legs cross at the ankles whereas correct form is for them to cross at the shins.) Oh and I also stand wrongly!
Iyengar Yoga is famous for being very exact about the poses. It uses a LOT of props to get you in exactly the right position. In some ways I have enjoyed this and in some ways I have hated this!
Its made me think about alignment in postures in a way I have never thought of before and I am sure my postures have improved because if it. The standing, for example, (Tadasana in yogic terms), what I have until now been blissfully unaware of is that when I feel I am standing upright I am actually leaning forward slightly. To actually stand upright I need to pull up my kneecaps, tuck my tailbone and move my weight backwards. I am so un-used to this that I actually feel as though I might just fall over over blackwards while I am actually perfectly aligned. It will take some practice!

It's also made me less wary of using yoga props (belts, bricks and blankets). I used to think of using props as cheating, now I am more aware of the benefits props can give. For example I can't grab my toes in Dandasana without bending my knees due to my lack of forward flexibility, using a belt hooked around my feet I can pull myself forward that little bit more and feel the muscles stretching and aligning.

The downside is that in Iyenger classes you do 10, maybe 15 poses in a one and a half hour class. I found myself craving something a little more dynamic - to throw myself thorough a couple of sun salutations!

In an ideal world I think I'd have liked to have continued with one Iyengar class a week to be able combine that exact focus on alignment with a more dynamic practice. Its not, however, looking likely that I will be continuing either of my current Iyengar classes. The one on Monday is my preferred on, but its a 5pm and I have done a deal on my hours to be able to go for this month and a half (even so its been hard to get away at 4:45pm to reach the class in time) and for the next few months I will be needed to cover until at least 5pm. The class at the iyoga Centre is not ideal as it will work out at £10 a class and I don't mind paying that for a smaller class so you get more personal attention but the class sizes are 20 plus people and for the first class of the year it was nearer 50! Plus the teacher can't remember my name - last class she asked me 4 times over the course of a 1 and a half hour class and still didn't know by the end of class!

My Monday Iyengar class continues for another 4 weeks and then I will have to consider what to do next to develop my practice.
Edinburgh Catt

On being bad at yoga

When people hear how much yoga I do and how much I love it people seem to assume that I am "good at yoga".
Which always bemuses me!
I am one of the clumsiest and least co-ordinated people I know.
After 3 years of yoga I still can't touch my toes on a regular basis.
making the move between plank pose and lunge pose I can't quite get my foot through between my hands so have to do a little shuffle to get into position.
And camel pose, don't talk to me about camel pose!

In any yoga class at least two thirds of the people there are "better" at yoga than me!

So why, then, do I do so much yoga? Why do I return and return again when I will probably never be as flexible or co-ordinated as the person on the next mat.

Firstly, I return because yoga is good for me. Not just in a "regular exercise is good for your health" kind of way but because if I go to yoga regularly I sleep better, stress less, worry less and am more focussed. I am a better person, easier to be around when I do go regularly.

Secondly, I keep going back as yoga is not a competitive sport, no matter how good I get there is always going to be someone who can balance better, hold the pose longer, manage the more difficult variation and that is totally okay!
"I don't need to be better than you, I only need to be better than me"
I can do poses and moves now that looked impossible during my first classes. I remember that everytime we did the third part of Awkward Pose my muscles would give way and I would fall on my butt. Then one time, a couple of months ago I did it, my muscles did what they were supposed to do and there I was - in the pose!
Over time and regular practice I improve - my toes get that little bit nearer in forward fold, my foot travels further forward in the transition between plank to lunge and one day, maybe, I will be able to do Camel pose.
Girl Graffiti

Adventures in Yoga - Part 2

Back in May I went to the Manchester Yoga Show and this gave me lots of ideas for workshops and different yoga studios to try (I even signed up for a yoga retreat in August). At the yoga show one of the things I picked up was a free pass to a class at One Yoga Studio in Chorlton. After my previous Ashtanga experience I decided to give their Monday evening "Ashtanga for Beginners" class a go.
So yesterday after work I caught the bus out to Chorlton. The studio itself is on an industrial estate, housed in the sort of unit you usually only visit to have your tyres changed, but this unit had been painted cream and turned into a yoga studio. The facilities are basic - a room to dump your bags in, a toilet and the yoga studio. The teacher had a Henry Rollins vibe about him - musclebound, tattooed, shaved head - I saw this as a good sign. It was a great class. Rather than the full hour and a half of the primary series it was a 1 hour reduced version of the primary series - the idea being that if you get to grips with this class you can look at attending one of the primary series classes they run. It was a good workout - challenging, but achievable. Jon (the Henry Rollins look alike) talked us through it all with humour and a few anecdotes thrown in. He wandered around and corrected poses. So very different and so much better than my previous Ashtanga experience. I headed home with a spring in my step and that lovely muscle ache that comes from a good workout.
I enjoyed it so much I suspect its going to become my standard Monday yoga class. Its £7 a class so even taking into account the £2.20 tram fare home its slightly cheaper than the hot yoga class I have been going to.
Edinburgh Catt

Adventures in Yoga

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So yesterday morning I ventured to the Ashtanga studios to see what it was all about. The introduction to Ashtanga course was 3 hours and basically breaks down the Primary sequence, walks you through each of the poses and tells you a bit about Ashtanga and the studio. I am left a little bit bemused by my experience really. In that I loved the poses - I love a good strong yoga practice, but non the less rather than my usual post yoga euphoria I left the studio feeling nauseous and tired - I went home and feel asleep for a few hours and still don't feel myself today. As part of the reason I do yoga is those mood boosting effects I am not sure that Ashtanga is for me. My other worry is that this particular studio focuses on "Mysore" style classes, which means that classes are not lead by a teacher, but everyone is expected to turn up knowing the sequence and work through it together in unison. I don't feel I am quite ready for that!
I note that the One Yoga Studio in Chorlton offers a Beginners Ashtanga class on a Monday evening so that might be something to try and see how I get on with it after a few more sessions. The University also offers 8 week beginners Ashtanga sessions. I can't make enough of the sessions to make it worthwhile to sign up for the summer course but I may look out for the autumn one.
In the meantime I have a few more exciting yoga adventures planned over the next few months.
Edinburgh Catt

How to fall in love with a Tabbycat

Having Ollie these past 2 and a half weeks has been a strange and crazy experience.
Previous to having him come to live with us we had spent just 20 or so minutes with him in his tiny enclosure at the rescue centre so we were pretty much strangers to each other before he moved in.
We have been getting to know him and he has been getting to know us.
Hanging out with Ollie at first was odd, there was this tabbycat in our house who wasn't Gabriel. He didn't look like Gabriel, he didn't feel like Gabriel and he didn't sound like Gabriel. I have slowly been getting to know Ollie and learning to love him for himself.

Ollie is of a slimmer build than Gabriel. Not that Gabriel is overweight, he is just of a stockier build than Ollie.
Ollie loves to be high up - in any room he will find the highest point he can reach and climb up there and perch (this has meant some re-organising of shelves and window ledges to ensure he has the space he needs).
Ollie is a snuggle bug - he loves nothing more than to find a human and to fall asleep on you or next to you - he will also happily wake you up in the middle of the night by using your stomach as a spring board to leap up on top of the wardrobe.
Gabriel expresses his affection with nose bumps (sometimes in such an affectionate manner you fear he may break your nose) and rubbing his face along yours. Ollie doesn't do this.
Ollie is less of a fussy eater than Gabriel, any kind of cat food is fine, but will lick the gravy or jelly off any cat food leaving the actual "meat" until later. He doesn't, however, like any find of "human" food - no tuna, prawns, chicken, cheese, noodles or any of the other delights that Gabriel ocassionally enjoys.
Ollie is, like Gabriel, very willing to express himself vocally. He is less chatty than when he arrived, but he wants something or wants your attention you will know about it!
Ollie prefers David - most cats do, I suspect its his calm demeanour. (Gabriel, before he came to us, avoided all men, expect David whom he decided he liked on sight.) Ollie has decided I am acceptable, if David isn't around!
Ollie doesn't mind strangers - so long as they are willing to talk to him, stroke him and feed him. Gabriel dislikes new people until they have earned his trust.

Ollie has, slowly but surely been worming his way into our hearts. He and Gabriel tolerate each other, will hang out in the same room if humans are present. Due to the good weather Gabriel has been spending a lot of time outdoors and Ollie will be confined inside for at least another week. The dynamic between them may change when Ollie is not in the house all the time.
Edinburgh Catt

How to accidentally acquire a Tabbycat

On the 6th September @saarescue (The Society for Abandoned Animals) posted this on Twitter:
A picture of a cute tabby cat, described as "old" and "hyperthyroid".
Wow, just like Gabriel I thought. The centre were struggling to find a home for him as few people want to take on an "elderly" cat or a sick cat.
I pointed Ollie out to David and jokingly said "The poor tabbycat, we should adopt him".
A few days later this turned into a less joking, "The poor tabbycat, we should adopt him". Much to my surprise David (being often my voice of reason) agreed.
This did not come entirely out of the blue, as we have often wondered whether Gabriel, having spent most of his life before coming to live with us with his brother and partner in crime Gomez (who went missing, presumed dead, before Gabriel came to us), might like some feline company. But similarly we didn't want to impose another cat on Gabriel if he was happy being an only cat (inter-species communication is difficult and I often wish it was easier).
We decided to go and visit Ollie the following Saturday if no-one had snapped him up before then. He hadn't been and so we visited the centre.
I think from the minute we visited the centre it was going to be hard not to take him home. It was heartbreaking. Each cat has a pen, about 2 metres square. Each is made as comfortable as the volunteers can, but even so "encarceration" is the phrase which came to mind. The kittens don't stay long before finding a home, but some of the cats had been there for a long while. Maisy for example has been there since January waiting for a home, because she is black cat and is overlooked in favour of more eyecatching cats. (Some one do us a favour and find that poor girl a home?)
We spent some time with Ollie and he was a sweetheart; very friendly, very affectionate, very chatty. The volunteers told us how he had been found with a collar on, but no microchip and no-one had reported him missing. They think that what happened, which is a common story, is that when he got a bit older and a bit ill, he was thrown out and probably replaced by a younger model. They guess-timate him as being 12 years old (which as Gabriel is 16 makes him nigh a kitten in our eyes) and he isn't actually hyperthyroid yet, his levels are just to the high end of normal.
We wanted to take him away then and there, it was hard to leave him and walk away. We agreed that if we passed an adoption check he would be ours - or rather that we would foster him with the aim of adopting him if he and Gabriel could get on with each other.
We had the house check on Saturday and went to bring him home the following day. We had made the bathroom as comfortable as possible as until he and Gabriel have been socialised with each other he will be spending half of his time in there.
Its too early to say how he and Gabriel will get on, but Ollie seems very happy to be in a house. He spent sometime out with us last night and was happy to hang out with David on the sofa. He is very conversational and is always happy to chat! He had some very strong opinions when he watched us do our yoga this morning! So far he and Gabriel have eaten either side of a door without hissing, but there will be at least a week of divided living before we can think about a face to face introduction. I'd love it if they bonded and were friends, but I will settle for them tolerating each other.
So keep your fingers crossed for us, especially for Ollie that we can be his forever home.
Edinburgh Catt

Cheating on Bikram Yoga

I haven't actually been to Bikram Yoga a lot recently as my health goals for this year mostly focus on other things but yesterday I headed over to a yoga studio, just not the Bikram one!
A new yoga studio opened in Manchester City Centre a few months ago and I thought it might be nice to give it a try at somepoint. They do offer "hot yoga", but not of the Bikram variety and they also do pilates (hot and cold), pilates reformer and cold yoga.
A deal came up recently for £19 for 10 days access so I thought I'd give it a go.

My main thoughts were on how different the studio and the practice was to Bikram. I have not yet decided if its different in a good or bad way!
The first thing I noticed was the difference in the venue. My Bikram Yoga Studio is in a basement in the Northern Quarter - you go downstairs to access it and there is no natural light in the studio. At Yoga Lounge you head up two flights of stairs to access the studio and it was lovely to be able to exercise with the sunshine flooding into the studio, they threw open the windows at the end of the class to dissipate the heat and let some cooler air in.
However the large windows also meant that there was more ambient noise in the area. I was aware of the traffic noise and people noise outside and found it a slight distraction to my practice.
I also noticed that the heat was very different. Bikram Yoga has strict rules as to the temperature and humidity that the practice room should be and as such has a complicated system to keep it at those levels (one of the reasons its in a basement is to make it easier to maintain the temperature and so it can be highly insulated to reduce heatloss / increase energy efficiency). The Hot Yoga studio uses a different form of heating system, personally to me it felt not as warm as Bikram and less humid, but David thought it was hotter, so who knows!
A lovely difference was that the showers at the YogaLounge were LOVELY! Huge big rainwater shower heads. The showers at the Bikram Studio are of the school shower variety - push a button for a set period of water and you have to keep pressing it.

The practice itself was also very different. Bikram Yoga uses always the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercise, on the basis that its designed to work every single muscle and joint in your body so there is no point chopping and changing. The class we went to at the new studio changes week by week. The tutor even said at one point "Hmm, so what shall we do today". It felt like a good work out, but who knows if it has the same full body effect that Bikram has?! David liked the possibility of variation, I'm not yet convinced.

I also noticed that the whole ethos of the place was less strict. Bikram is all about routine - no drinking while other people are in postures, water only in the studio, mats placed in the designated spots (so everyone has a view of themselves in the mirror). At YogaLounge people were putting their mats wherever they felt like it, one girl has brought a can of coca cola into the studio to sip. My slightly OCD self LIKES the strict discipline of Bikram. It helps my focus and concentration to know that we are going to do the same 26 postures, in exactly the same order. The routine and the rules of Bikram are all about removing distractions as much as possible and helping focus. Its this meditative aspect of Bikram I find helpful and I didn't leave YogaLounge with the same feeling of peace, tranquility and slight euphoria that I get after a Bikram Session.

However I did like that the session at the yogalounge was 60 minutes, the 90 minutes of Bikram can feel like an eternity and if you take into consideration getting to the studio and getting home again afterwards a trip to the Bikram studio eats a large chunk of time.

I have another 6 sessions at the new studio, taking in a variety of the classes they offer, so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it in 9 days!