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BEEZ from 106STORIES CREATIVE DIRECTOR
CONTRIBUTORS ALI SMITH ANDRES GONZALEZ ATMAN SMITH BECKIE HANNAH BENT ON LEARNING CHARLOTTE BISHOP DANIELA OLDS DAVID SYE DEBBY KAMINSKY IRENE PAPPAS KAREN YEOMANS KERRI VERNA LAURA KASPERZAK
LOCKEY MAISONNEUVE MICHELE PERNETTA NESTOR VILLAREAL PAO SANCHEZ RAY TAMARRA ROBERT STURMAN SABRINA WONG SALLY GRIFFYN SOPHIA HERBST YULADY SALUTI
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Ireme Pappas by KAREN YEOMANS
Child of The Earth
Just Ten Minutes
by The Accidental Yogi
by Kerri Verna
The Kids Are Alright
by Laura Kasperzak
EDITOR'S LETTER Extremely love yoga
his issue we’re all about flexibility. We’re not talking about getting your leg behind your head, although that is mega cool, we’re talking about letting go a little. You skipped your 6am class to have a lie in and a greasy breakfast instead? So what!? A few weeks back I yanked something somewhere it didn’t want to go and ended up hobbling. Fortunately I saw the funny side and decided to shift my perspective of flexibility onto the way I practised. I spent a week stretching only my uninjured side, got on a pair of rollerblades as substitute exercise and jived around to my favourite song instead of doing my headstand. It’s all good though, because this issue we’re banishing the yoga police in favour of Kerri Verni (p28), who shows us that meditation isn’t serenity it's simply a state of mind, in favour of Michele Pernetta (p34), who’s willing to do hot yoga in a scuba suit if it gets people laughing, and most importantly in favour of those adapting yoga in every way conceivable to bring it to children in need. Yoga shouldn’t be a rigid chore, as one young student points out “I extremely love yoga because I get to try new, fun, amazing things.” So be flexible, find your inner child and go have some fun.
Bex Fetherstone Editor
Issue 2 photo competition runner up SABRINA WONG (@sabbwong)
BECKIE HANNAH Photo Competition Winner Jan/Feb 2015
How long have you been practising yoga? I began practising yoga five years ago. Coming from a performance background, movement has always been one of the biggest parts of my life. I was drawn to yoga as I didn’t have to worry about judgement, competition and failure, which was a big part of the creative industry I worked in. Since then yoga has become much more of a lifestyle. Initially the postures were a chance to escape from the world and connect with my own body but now, for me, yoga is more like a pattern of thinking. Believing in the power of positive thoughts, staying present, practising kindness and not attaching myself to negative thoughts, beliefs and situations. I now teach yoga too and love facilitating that journey in others. I will always be a student first and foremost though, I’m constantly learning and challenging myself both physically and mentally.
What styles do you practise? I was trained as an ashtanga yoga teacher but I also practise dharma mittra and rocket with my fantastic teacher Ambra Vallo, who has helped and inspired my journey so much. My practice is a real pick ‘n’ mix of different styles, I love the discipline of ashtanga, the energy of rocket and the surrendering and heart opening of dharma mittra. I believe that the combination of different flows really helps me to balance my mind and my body. What's the story behind your photo? I wanted to take some photos that captured my energy, style and flow as a teacher. My friend and photographer David McKnight came up with the idea of using flour and throwing it up in the air during the poses. Through this we wanted to create photos that looked fresh and alive with energy, fluidity and creativity.
Issue 2 photo competiton winner Beckie Hannah by DAVID MCKNIGHT
Irene Pappas by KAREN YEOMANS
ELECTRIC YOGA Playlist
obble around on your mat to these liquid electric beats, designed to have you easing through your practice like you're swimming through treacle. Focus on the beat and keep your transitions smooth as silk for a beautiful sixty minute flow...
Les Nuits Nightmares on Wax
3 x Sun Salute A
Lean On (feat. MO and 3 x Sun Salute B DJ Snake) Major Lazer C O O L Le Youth On My Mind Joker/ William Cartwright
Gone Gone Gone Mujuice Night Air Jamie Woon What I Might Do (Radio Edit) Ben Pearce
Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon) SBTRKT Your Drums, Your Love Aluna George
Treat Me Like Fire Lion Babe This Place Was A Shelter Ă“lafur Arnalds Says Nils Frahm
CHILD OF THE EARTH WORDS THE ACCIDENTAL YOGI
“I left wondering how I was going to cope without raw cacao truffles”.
lthough now firmly planted in London, I am in fact a child of the countryside. It's only mild countryside - think log fires in winter and long walks in fields rather than tractor driving and sharing a bedroom with a pet pig - but it's countryside nonetheless. Every so often I have a longing for my roots. I get bored of running down escalators to catch a tube I'm not really in a rush to catch, where I have to shove my face into several strangers' armpits, all in order to arrive late at an overcrowded studio, where I pay too much for sixty minutes of peace and quiet that I probably wouldn't need if I didn't live in London. During one of these periods of boredom, I trotted off on an 'I hate London' holiday, where I planned to get a good dose of nature and a good dose of yoga, and of course, feeling pangs of jealousy for my fellow yogis posting serene shots of outdoor asanas on Instagram, I would combine the two. “How wholesome I will be,” I thought, “a child of the earth, at one with nature.” On day one I managed five sun salutations in a forest before giving in to the painful
twig-shaped indentations on my palms. When that failed, fancying myself as the next @beachyogagirl, I hauled my mat down to the shoreline. I’d pictured elegant balancing against the backdrop of the rising sun, my hair salty and windswept. What I got was a lot of sand in my mouth, and a soundtrack of old ladies shouting at their Scottie dogs. Back in London and recovering from my nature mishaps I slinked into Whole Foods, where I wondered how I was going to cope without raw cacao truffles. I spotted a lady shoving her way through the shop and gabbing on her phone. "Henry was late daaarling, but after all that rushing they don’t have the organic wheatgrass powder!" She stacked her fix of nature into a basket then swished out of the shop. My yogic forays into nature hadn't gone to plan, but Little Miss Hurried made me realise that you don’t have to be on top of a mountain to see nature. Get on the bus, walk the dog, sit on the tube, or just nip down to Whole Foods and take the time to watch, notice and appreciate, and maybe you’ll have a good old chuckle while you’re at it.
Ireme Pappas by NESTOR VILLARREAL
IRENE PAPPAS “Gratitude is what yoga is all about”
rene rocks up to meet me in some insanely bright butterfly leggings and her black biker boots with her long pinky purpley hair swept nonchalantly back off her face. She tells me that she’s a bit of a state today. “I used to work in fashion, you can tell can’t you?” she jokes and then bursts out laughing. Pappas’ deviation from the average cotton-trousered yogi stereotype doesn’t stop at her clothing choice. She’s quick to mock herself and she couldn’t care less about where we go and grab a cup of tea together. As I’m moidering over which quirky London gem to take her to she tells me that she’s here to see me and so it really doesn’t matter. “So what about the sights of London?” I ask, and Pappas tells me that she’s done the touristy stuff once before, but that really she’s here to teach yoga, because that’s what she loves to do, and because “there’s beauty to be seen everywhere,” even in the bog standard central London buildings she’s pointing at. We grab a tea, and as I put the cups down on the table, Pappas thanks me as though I’ve just bought her a new car or donated my kidney. We chatter away about life and yoga and it strikes me just how grateful Pappas is, not just for the fact that she’s travelling around the world doing what she loves, but for all of the other seemingly mundane stuff too. We get on to talking about her injured wrist, and rather than complaining of the pain or the fear of what will happen next, Pappas is grateful for how brilliant her doctor is. Rather than moaning about the long flight over to the UK, she’s thankful that she got to watch ‘The Theory of Everything’ on the plane and got a whole row of seats to herself. I’m about to attend Pappas' flexibility workshop, which of course I'm excited about, but Irene is just as excited for me to attend and tells me that she’s always so happy when she travels halfway across the globe to find a room full of people that want to be taught by her. For Pappas, that gratitude is what yoga is all about, and I can really feel this throughout her workshop - the three hours are spent bending and stretching and easing your body into things in a way that’s mindful and respectful of the body’s boundaries. “If you don’t feel like doing this,” she says, “just do what your body fancies doing, or chill out on your mat and marvel at the amazing things going on around you”, and it is literally one of the only classes I’ve ever been to that it actually feels ok to do that. Suddenly I’m feeling grateful for my blissful moments in child’s pose, rather than berating myself for being lazy and I’m feeling grateful that I’ve finally found a comfortable way to lie in pigeon pose rather than cursing my insanely tight hips. Draze chats to Pappas about how she came to yoga and about being able to translate uber bendiness and super strength into something that might actually make a difference to the way you live your life...
What were you doing before yoga?
Before I began practising yoga I studied fashion retail management and helped my sister in opening a clothing store for tall women (she is 6'4"!). As far as sports went, I enjoyed working out in the gym, at that point it was the closest thing I had found to peace of mind. How did you first get into yoga? Do you remember your first class?
When I was at boarding school I remember my mum going off for a month to become a yoga teacher, at the time I thought that she was crazy! I was curious and I did dabble with yoga a few times but ultimately decided that it wasn’t for me. I was never the athletic type but I also wasn’t that good at sitting still, and so yoga felt like a combination of my weaknesses. To be honest, I was tricked into falling in love with yoga - when I was working out in the gym one day a handsome yoga teacher caught my eye. He managed to swoon me into attending his power yoga class and from that first proper class, there was no turning back, that was the real beginning of my journey. Now you study with all sorts of different types of people - circus performers, contortionists etc. - what do you get from this, and who’s the most interesting person you’ve worked with?
I am a firm believer in expanding my knowledge in as many ways as possible, whether it is simply reading a book or travelling across the country to study with people who are absolute experts and have studied their craft for decades. I feel like I am always adding pieces to a puzzle by opening my eyes to different ways of thinking and different schools of body mechanics. I think that every single person we meet in our lives has something to teach us, and while I choose to study with some people for longer than others I am grateful for all of my teachers. For you, where’s the line between things like contortion or gymnastics and yoga? Is there any difference at all?
Of course there’s a difference! To be honest, I have only recently started practising actual yoga, slowly I’ve learnt that you can bend your body into a pretzel or press into the most beautiful handstand, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you’re practising yoga. Equally, you don't have to be on a yoga mat to be doing yoga. I see many people practising yoga in some form or another when they’re not even aware of it! For me yoga is a way of life, not just something you do when you get to class or on the mat, it’s about living mindfully with a clear and dedicated focus.
Ireme Pappas by RAY TAMARRA for ALO Yoga
Obviously you’re uber flexible (yes, we’re jealous!). What would you say to people who are disheartened by their struggle with their hamstrings, their bendless back or whatever it is they’re struggling with?
None of it matters. The shapes are fun, but they are empty unless we give them meaning. The point of yoga is not the shapes but is to accept the struggle you’re going through and try to let go of your attachment to the result. I know it sounds simple and you’re probably rolling your eyes, but really this is the point of yoga. Yoga is to face your biggest fears, your biggest doubts, to accept them and then to move on and surpass them. You’ve recently hurt your wrist right? How have you managed to overcome that hurdle in your practice and do you have any advice to people who are working with an injury?
My right wrist is a complete unknown for me right now, my lunate bone has broken and decayed. I don't know how I am going to heal it or how long it’s going to take. Surgeons are telling me that it would be best to remove the row of bones from my wrist because there seems to be little chance that they will heal. All of this is scary, but at the same time I know there are ways to think about it that change that. Struggles can always teach us something, and through taking a step back from my physical practice I am learning the power of other parts of my practice. The point of yoga is not to do a handstand, it is to connect with something greater than ourselves and my new goal is to help people with this. This is how we heal ourselves from injuries and learn to forgive ourselves and the world we live in. We have to get over our ego, excuses are always just excuses. What sort of an influence does your yoga practice have on the rest of your life?
My yoga practice is my life, helping me see and spread light even in my moments of doubt. What do you hope people will get from your classes?
In the end all I want is to show people that there is light and love in this sometimes dark world, and we are all responsible for reflecting it. You are the light of the world, remember that and reflect that light out for the rest of the world.
Ireme Pappas by YULADY SALUTI
The Kids Are Alright
nitially I’m distracted by David Sye's outrageous tattoos and facial hair, his cardigan and his cool shoes. He’s perhaps unconsciously aware of this as he points to all of his adornments, and then in turn to my many earrings and says “this is all just stuff, it’s what we choose to put on ourselves and how we choose to display ourselves, but it doesn’t really mean anything about who we are or what we’re doing.” David Sye, London-based yoga teacher, is chatting away to me about teaching those who might be less than enthralled by the idea of yoga. “I don’t use any of the airy fairy stuff. I don’t namaste, I don’t chant, none of that. I bring in a big soundsystem and a DJ and I focus on people having fun with their bodies, rather than holding postures in reverential silence.” The more we talk, the more I realise that there’s far more interest to be had in what David Sye is actually saying, than in his various decorations. Wellknown for his ‘no-restrictions, no-rules’ approach to yoga (his class styles include ‘chocolate yoga’, ‘tequila yoga’ and ‘yoga to beats’), Sye began working with inner-city children in London as part of ‘The 409 Project’, an initiative engaging young people deemed at risk of, or in the early stages of offending. “These are kids that, by the age of ten or eleven are already familiar with drugs and alcohol, familiar with severe hardship and on top of that, familiar with the police,” Sye tells me.
"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children," Nelson Mandela once said. It might be difficult then to believe that approximately 3.5 million children in the UK are living in poverty - that’s almost a third of all children. Not such good news for our society’s soul. As budgets are cut and children’s services close, huge numbers of young people are left underserved and exposed to traumatising circumstances which leave them more likely to suffer from mental health disorders, more likely to suffer from substance misuse, and more likely to end up embroiled in the criminal justice system.
The benefits of yoga for these children are undisputed. Yoga positively impacts on academic performance, discipline, emotional wellbeing and children’s attitudes towards themselves and others. Studies have shown its profound impact on violence prevention and improved behaviour in children with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties. One study in the USA, in which over one hundred students between the ages of nine and eleven practised regular yoga at school, resulted in a 93% decrease in aggressive behaviour in participants. Results like these come alongside those of studies relating to the emotional benefits of yoga. A study comparing the effects of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and yoga programmes on stress levels suggested that yoga, a relatively unexplored method of therapy, may be just as effective as more commonly prescribed (and more expensive) treatments such as CBT.
Baltimore, United States, through yoga and mindfulness. Founded by brothers Ali and Atman Smith, along with their university friend Andres Gonzalez, the foundation provides after school programmes where children learn a combination of yoga, mindfulness and meditation with the aim of empowering them with skills for peaceful conflict resolution, improved focus, greater self-regulation, anger-management and stress reduction. The brothers explain to me that, after returning to their childhood neighbourhood they saw “how empty life was for a lot of people there, how the sense of community had disappeared.” The brothers and Gonzalez wanted to do something to engage and support the young people in their area, and were given a group of ‘problem’ young people and asked to teach them football. Having experienced what yoga had done for their own well-being, the
Why aren't the children of every na Why aren’t all the nation’s children doing yoga then? The problem is two-fold; firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is a lack of services providing yoga for ‘difficult’ young people, but secondly is the stigma attached to yoga, especially amongst kids who use a tough image as a defence against whatever might be going on in their lives. Sye thinks it’s hardly surprising that many kids are put off yoga. He explains that many of the young people he encounters want to maintain a certain image and that this image doesn’t fit in with what they perceive yoga and spirituality to be. This is the notion that Sye is trying to fight. “I explain to the kids that all spirituality is, is kindness, and that there’s kindness everywhere. When I explain that, they get it and maybe they think that yoga’s not so bad afterall.” The Holistic Life Foundation Incorporated (HLF) supports children in underserved communities in
three took on the group but decided to teach them yoga instead. Twelve years on and most of their twenty staff members are from that first cohort, proving the efficacy of their approach. The brothers echo Sye’s flexible and fun approach to classes, which they cite as the key to appealing to their kids. “We have a broad definition of the word yoga,” Ali explains, “we always make it fun and we try to give people tools that are practical for them to incorporate into their daily lives rather than just give them a class once a week. You’ll never attend a HLF class where the students aren’t laughing and joking with each other and the teachers.” Aware of the lack of services available to the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups of young people in their area, the founders explain to me another key philosophy behind their project, “we try and give our students the tools to teach others,
enabling our message to be spread far wider than just the 2,600 students we teach each week. We’ll often set students homework whereby they have to go and teach someone else anything they’ve learnt from a session, and we hope that in this way, the message will reach others and we can start to make a change for these young people.” Debby Kaminsky is another pioneer hoping to bring change to inner-city areas through yoga. After reading about poor graduation rates in Newark, New Jersey (where only 67% of children complete high school) she founded the Newark Yoga Movement (NYM). “When I started Newark Yoga Movement, there were pockets of 'yoga in schools' programmes,” Debby explains, (Bent on Learning founded in 2001, provided, and continue to provide, yoga within schools in NYC) “and I knew about yoga’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety
ation doing yoga? and increase focus and confidence.” After meetings with Newark’s mayor and both private and public schools, Debby launched a pilot yoga session with 300 Newark students. Over 70% of them thought that they would want to continue yoga regularly at school. The children of Newark had spoken, and as a result of NYM’s pilot programme yoga became a regular and accepted feature in the curriculum of many Newark schools. Now the NYM have taught “over 16,000 students and the response has been fantastic.” Lockey Maisonneuve, one of the organisation’s regular teachers, explains that the aim is to teach children going through difficulties to find their own safe place through yoga to help them keep their own turbulent emotions in check. “Yoga poses are great,” Lockey explains “and it can look really cool when you’re doing so many interesting things with
your body, but it’s when you can find that safe and peaceful place inside of yourself and begin to utilise it when there’s crazy stuff going on outside - that’s what changes people.” According to Bent On Learning, the impact yoga can have on a child’s emotional welfare is matched equally by its ability to improve learning and academic achievement. The organisation integrates yoga into student’s daily routines at school, providing every child with their own mat and bringing the practice right into the classroom. Over the past 15 years they have reached around 18,000 children, also allowing many over-worked and stressed teachers in inner city areas to participate in the programmes. Students learn basic yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditation techniques appropriate for their age and ability, in a supportive and non-competitive environment as part of their normal school day. Teachers are also given tools which enable them to bring simple yoga exercises and breathing techniques into the classroom environment and integrate them into students’ learning experience. This might seem like non-conventional teaching, but the signs telling us that this shouldn’t be something out of the ordinary are all there. Medical and educational experts alike have long been of the opinion that exercise improves both concentration and brain function, and it would seem that yoga in particular has something to offer with regards to helping young people to learn. Experts report that “movement and stimulation of balance greatly assist attentional disorders and improve reading,” and studies have shown yoga in schools prompting “improved test scores, increased participation in class and improvements on emotional response.” Since taking yoga, 76% of students reported using yogic breathing techniques to help them
focus. “Yoga has changed the way I concentrate,” one student explains, “it helps me to breathe and stay calm during tests, and when I’m doing a hard problem, I can relax.” It’s by no means ‘business as usual’ where teaching children in need is concerned, and at The Newark Yoga Movement teachers have to learn techniques and tricks to deal with the difficulties bound to arise from teaching children going through normal childhood struggles as well as the struggles of their individual situations and experiences. “I used to go in with a fixed plan for the class, a plan to do yoga, because that’s what I felt I was there for,” Lockey explains. “What I’ve learnt though is that it’s not my job to go in and tell the kids what to do - they spend all day listening to people telling them ‘sit down, stand up, don’t talk, do this, do that.’ So now, I have a plan for the class, and I go in fully prepared to veer off plan, be flexible and do what feels right for them, not for me.” She goes on to tell me about one of her students who never did a single one of the postures she taught and spent his time being the class clown. One day she decided to ask him to come and teach the class with her, “he got up and started teaching posture by posture, he didn’t need my help at all and I realised that he’d been listening all along, to every single word I’d ever said.” The real problem, according to Sye, is not kids shying away from yoga, but adults shying away from taking a different approach to yoga, being willing to do something slightly non-conventional and wacky. “You’ve got to go to the people who aren’t doing yoga, you’ve got to explore the places that are uncomfortable,” he says. “We should stop trying to tell these kids what to do and instead we should listen
to what they’re telling us, because they’re a marker of how things in this society really are. They need a challenge, something to push their boundaries and change their perceptions of themselves and what they can do,” says Sye. HLF explain to me that the kids they work with are often looked upon badly because of the behaviours they display and the images of themselves that they present, but that we need to be looking at why they’re doing these things, rather than just blaming them for doing it. After all, a child is a product of its society, and faced with harsh circumstances and an often uncaring society, these children find ways to protect themselves. “These are kids who present a hard exterior, who look like they don’t care what’s going on, but inside they’re just children who have had to deal with things way beyond their years,” the HLF team explain. “We want our children to be the most awesome citizens possible with the best values. We want our children to be safe. We want our children to be children,” Debby Kaminsky adds, “this is often tough because there is crime, there are gangs and there is a subculture where many are told to fight to survive.” The fundamental belief of everyone I’ve spoken to is that when we share yoga with children we present another way of dealing with what they’ve been through and what they face every day, a way that will allow them to grow and develop and make our society a better place to be. “Now if I get mad, I just breathe deep,” says one of young student, “I just picture being in a certain place I like and I think of being a bigger person and doing something maybe a wise man would do. Yoga makes me feel as if I can take anything thrown my way.”
photo KERRI VERNA
JUST TEN MINUTES A DAY By
“Just ten minutes a day, that’s all I ask.”
hat’s what the voice in my head pleaded for when, just a few years ago with stress levels shooting through the roof, I’d reached the point of debating taking medication for my anxiety. My only focus was that things weren’t going according to plan and I was constantly thinking of what I could do or say to fix the situation. Most of what I worried about never came to fruition; I spent seventy percent of my days poring over the details of invented, and not yet realised, disasters. I had been teaching yoga for a while but found meditation incredibly difficult. I’d tried countless techniques but if I was honest with myself it always felt like I could be doing something better with my time and I’d find every excuse in the book to avoid it.
photo KERRI VERNA
It wasn’t until I’d explored every other avenue I could think of and was faced with feeling like my life was falling apart that I began research into different ways of thinking about meditation. “Anything we focus on is meditation,” someone explained one day, “have you ever watched a two hour film? Well, you meditated on that for two whole hours!” Something in my brain finally clicked and I realised that I needed to stop thinking of mediation as something scary and alien and instead just think of it as concentrated focus. My first real meditation was on a cup of coffee. I began by meditating on simple things like drinking a cup of coffee. I experimented with being completely present for the entire cup of coffee - feeling the cup in my hands, noticing the smell of it, the heat on my lips and the way I could feel the liquid travel down my throat. I tried to notice how I was breathing and what I was feeling at that moment, seeing if I could let go of those thoughts and take them back to the action that I was performing. It was the best cup of coffee I’d ever had! After that I tried doing more and more ‘mini meditations’ - focussing on things like brushing my teeth or lacing up my shoes, becoming aware of the small details and nuances of actions.
“Anything we focus on is meditation”
I started to realise that maybe, meditation wasn’t as hard as I had made it out to be. Maybe, just maybe, I could manage it. As I worked my way through my ‘mini-meditations’ I noticed that my levels of gratitude skyrocketed. I began to really enjoy brushing my teeth and giving special attention to each individual tooth. I appreciated the running water and the fact that I had toothpaste and a nice toothbrush. I began to feel blessed that I had nice shoes and notice the intricate details of the stitching. The more I noticed and appreciated, the more confused I was by my own
37 Laura Kasperzak by ROBERT STURMAN
anxiety. Why had I been wasting my thoughts on fear when there were so many other things I’d been completely oblivious to in my attempt to focus on the unknown? I had been missing the simple and concrete beauty in the world and instead had been consumed by complex and cloudy doubts. I had not been present enough to notice that every day is a gift and that every moment contains beautiful things just waiting to be discovered if we are just able to just stop and notice them.
though I have learnt to go back to when I first heard that voice asking me to spend “just ten minutes a day” and I think about how far I’ve come. Mediation has changed my life. Of course thoughts of anxiety still exist, but I no longer entertain them, no longer get carried away with them, because today I live for, and in the moment of now.
“Every day is a gift and every moment contains beautiful things just waiting to be discovered”
As I grew in my meditation practice I began to crave my alone time, being still with my breath. I began to cherish each step, each breath and everything else that I had been given. Some days are easy, but on others I just can’t let go of whatever is overwhelming me. In those moments
If you’re finding meditating tough, know that as you read this you are meditating. Stop and notice the letters on the page. Notice how you are sitting and how your breath is travelling in and out of your body. Notice the beautiful paper and how you are holding it in your hand. Think about how this article came to be in front of you, what it means to you. Let your mind take you on a journey all the way to finding the moment of now.
photo KERRI VERNA
hen did yoga become so rigid and prescriptive, so idealised and aspirational? Yoga should be the place for the injured, the place for the anti-yogis who can’t tie their shoelaces because of their bellies, for the people who ‘can’t touch their toes or the people who can’t stand on one leg without going ‘kersplat’. Yoga should be flexible and free. But it’s not. It’s no secret that sports can be intimidating. It starts at school, with the cross country runs where you’re left red-faced and panting yet significantly lagging behind a trail of petite and popular blondes, with the uncomfortable staring at the floor as you’re picked last to be on a team for something competitive and seemingly pointless. I know myself that adulthood doesn’t stem this flow of sports-related embarrassment, a few unfortunate attempts at
non-conventional sports (attempting rollerblading and snowboarding and turning both sports into bottom shuffling) have been enough to show me that. But it seems, somewhat ironically, that the ‘non-competitive’ sport of yoga tops the leaderboard for levels of intimidation. Michele Pernetta, founder of Fierce Grace yoga agrees. “I’d been doing yoga for years and I still felt intimidated walking into serene white studios where nobody talks,” she tells me. “If I feel intimidated by that, then I can’t imagine how a bloke with a beer belly whose wife has dragged him to yoga after five years of nagging must feel.” I’d been shown into the waiting room of Fierce Grace’s Primrose Hill studio which is “made to look like your living room rather than a place of worship” and I’d spent some time puzzling over an image of what I was sure was Pernetta herself in a scuba diving suit doing yoga. I’d wondered if the founder and owner of an extremely successful and rapidly expanding yoga brand would really have participated in something that silly, but as we chatted I decided that yes, she definitely would. Pernetta doesn’t take life, or herself too seriously, but even more interestingly, she doesn’t take yoga too seriously either. Odd, you might think, for the whirlwind of a woman who has studied with some of the world’s most prominent yogis, has over twenty years of yoga experience and is now one of the UK’s most highly regarded teachers bringing her brand of yoga to practitioners across London via her six studios. But actually, Pernetta’s success might just be down to that very attitude. “I wanted to bring humour into yoga,” she explains. “People get so uptight about yoga, so ‘holier than thou’ and I think this needs to be changed - it can be supppressive. I didn’t want people to feel intimidated in any way.” Pernetta goes on to explain that she wants to give yoga a tougher image, to allow people
to “stop thinking yoga is something that it isn’t” and get down to the practice. “I didn’t want people to think that you had to be skinny, or flexible, or even healthy to come and do yoga.” So if you’re old, fat, inflexible, injured, busy, unhealthy or any other adjective you might choose to implement, you’ve got no excuse according to Pernetta, quite the opposite in fact, you’re the person she wants in her class. “I love working with injuries”, she tells me gleefully. Pernetta first came to yoga with two knees injured ‘beyond repair’ from years of martial arts, and twenty years on having undergone not a single operation, her knees are healthier than ever. “Medical professionals are great at fixing broken things,” Pernetta explains, “but I like to look at why it’s broken in the first place. If you’ve got an injury in your knee, it’s probably not your knee that’s caused it, but an imbalance in the way you’re walking or standing, and that’s what I want to fix.” Pernetta would like Fierce Grace to become known as the place to go with injuries, and her eventual vision is a whole generation of yogi oldies, who’ll be able to ditch their walking frames and swap shuffling to the shops for hiking up mountains and teaching their grandchildren handstands. So what about all of the spiritual stuff, and the traditionalists who might argue that Pernetta’s unconventional branding is misrepresenting yoga? “I’m glad that some of the uptight types are offended by what I’m doing,” Pernetta tells me, “it means I’m helping to break a stereotype of yoga that isn't useful. Using statues or sanskrit chants to ‘sell’ yoga is faux spirituality, those things aren’t meant to be used as sales tools.” She goes on to explain that although her yoga practice has developed into a spiritual practice, it’s not for everyone, especially those completely new to yoga. “It takes most people years before they get into the spiritual side of yoga, so what’s the point in shoving it in people’s faces before they’ve even started practising?” she asks, “the
majority of people start yoga because they want to feel good, maybe they’ll get to meditation later on, and maybe not, either way is fine.” Pernetta thinks that studios and the yoga industry in general are marketing yoga back to front, with advanced postures and spirituality being the main feature of most yoga branding, a sure fire way to put newcomers off according to Pernetta. I ask Pernetta how she thinks yoga should be marketed. “Yoga is for people who want to be able to move their body in its full natural range of motion,” she tells me, “it’s literally the most practical and sensible thing that you can do for the maintenance of your body and mind.” Pernetta wants to put people in her photos in "shitty poses with their guts hanging out, because others might look and think ‘yeah I can manage that’”, and ultimately that sense of empowerment is what yoga is all about. She wants husbands and wives, old and young, professional and non-professional, fit and unfit, fat and thin, young and old and everyone in between, to have the opportunity to look after their bodies in an environment where they’re encouraged to come and see what they can do. The point is that whether you’re looking for handstands, hollowbacks and a whole lot of sweat or you simply want to stand up straight, Pernetta is out to prove that yoga has it to offer, and her classes of varying lengths, focuses and levels reflect that. Pernetta’s manifesto sums it up. ‘So you did the splits - who cares if you still can’t say “I’m sorry”. Yoga is so you can bend down and tie your shoes or reverse down a one-way street without putting your back out and stop asking people to massage your tight neck because you got of your bum and got to a yoga class and sorted it out yourself.’ It’s simple according to Pernetta, “whatever you have to do to get moving, do it. We don’t care if you can’t perform the pose or if your beer belly is hanging out, we don’t give a shit about that - just get moving.”
ver been to a yoga class and been told to “grab blocks and a strap if you NEED them”? Ever heard these words and then sat on your mat conducting an internal dialogue with yourself that goes something like this… “Maybe I should at least grab some blocks.” “Don’t be stupid, why would you need blocks?! You can touch the ground! Besides… no one else is grabbing any! Do you want to be the only one using them?” “Yeah, forget it… I don’t need them.” “Maybe just a strap then, in case we do inversions?” “But the teacher said only if you need them…you don’t.” “The strap helps to keep my arms in.” “But then everyone else will see that you need a strap and that you can’t do it on your own.” “True. OK, no props it is then!”
We‘ve all been there. Our egos shouting at us when we think we might be showing signs of weakness. As a yoga teacher I see it all of the time when I tell my students to grab blocks, straps, bolsters or whatever else. Swathes of normally functional yogis stand still, frozen for a split second and conducting their own internal argument with themselves.
But I’m here to break some news. Yoga props are your friends…your best friends! They're not for amateurs or people who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing, quite the opposite. Blocks, straps and blankets can improve your alignment, allow you to go deeper into postures and build strength. Here are my top ways to use each yoga prop in my practice...
photo LAURA KASPERZAK
One Block, Two Blocks, Three Blocks, More!
Bringing blocks into your practice can instantly make yoga postures more accessible and bring your body into alignment. They allow you to bring the ground up to your hands during standing postures and to prop up your hips during seated postures. Think of the tallest height of a block as ‘hotel height’, the middle height as ‘motel height’ and the lowest height as ‘tent height’. Simply ease or intensify any stretch by varying the type of accommodation you go for! My favourite way to incorporate blocks into my practice is to use them to open up my chest, shoulders and upper back, this has helped me to go deeper into backbends and hollowbacks. Grab two blocks and sit down on your mat, simply place one block between your shoulder blades and lie down on your mat, then place the second block underneath your head. The blocks can be at any height depending on how open you are feeling and you may have to adjust a few times to get them just right. Once you feel comfortable extend your arms alongside of your hips or grab opposite elbows above your head. Close your eyes and let gravity do its thing! Strap in!
A yoga strap can be used to lengthen a limb in order to practise a posture that would not be accessible otherwise. Rather like Inspector Gadget, your strap is your extendable arm when grabbing various other limbs. There were certain asanas that I found simply impossible until I made peace with a yoga strap. Natarajasana or King Dancer pose only became even vaguely accessible with the use of a strap
to lengthen my arms in order to connect them to my foot. Other major ‘yoga breakthroughs’ that I have experienced have all been with the help of my trusty strap. The strap can be used to bring stability to the arms in arm balances and inversions, and I only learnt to press into handstand and execute complex arm balance transitions with a yoga strap placed right above my elbows. The tendency for most people in tricky transitions is to allow their elbows to splay apart. The strap will automatically keep your elbows hugging into the midline, an action which is necessary to fully support and protect your shoulders and engage the serratus anterior, the muscles on the sides of the ribs. Whether it is an arm balance, an inversion, a stretch or a transition, a strap allows the yogi to experience a posture with the correct alignment and muscle engagement, essentially giving them the memory of what needs to engage in order to do the posture without assistance. No Napping Allowed!
The thought of using a blanket in yoga usually brings up feelings of relaxation or comfort. They can be used as extra padding underneath the knees in low lunges, under the crown of the head in headstands and under the lower back in savasana. That said, they can can also build strength in the entire body and make you sweat like crazy! Most of my students let out a long groan when I tell them to grab a blanket because they know what is coming‘blanket sun salutations’. All you will need for this one is a blanket or a towel and a hard, wood floor!
photo LAURA KASPERZAK
Here is a quick breakdown of this modified Surya Namaskar A:
Stand with your feet on your blanket. On an inhale, sweep your hands up and on the exhale, swan dive down into a standing forward fold. Inhale, lift half way up and on the exhale, plant your hands down and slide back on the towel to plank pose. Take an inhale and on the exhale lower into your chaturanga dandasana. Inhale, flip your toes and take an upward facing dog. Exhale, come into your downward dog. You should notice how much more difficult it is to hold a proper down dog on a blanket! Feel your entire body engaging in order to hold yourself in place! Try to hold for five deep breaths. Inhale, slide back into plank. Exhale, shift your weight into your hands, engage your abdominals and begin to slide your feet up towards your hands. Slide forwards and backwards like this five times before coming into your forward fold. Inhale, lengthening and looking forwards once again and on the exhale fold deeper. Inhale, sweep the arms high and exhaling bring your hands to heart centre. Repeat this 2-3 more times. Smile and don’t forget to breathe! So, yoga props are not your enemy. Next time your yoga teacher tells you to grab props “if you need them”, march proudly to grab blocks, a strap and a blanket and get ready to watch your practice grow, you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of with just a little bit of help from your friends!
photo LAURA KASPERZAK
STUDIO STOCKISTS LONDON
Triyoga Soho, Chelsea & Camden
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Hot Bikram Yoga Balham, Fulham & London Bridge
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Yogarise Peckham Victor’s Lab Peckham
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Union Station Yoga Clapham
Evolve Wellness Centre South Kensington
Down To Earth Tufnell Park
Stretch London Fields & Shoreditch
Planet Yoga Absolute Yoga Bikram Yoga
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Justin Wolfer by ROBERT STURMAN
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Irene Pappas by NESTOR VILLARREAL
Published on Apr 23, 2015
For the yoga vulture: one handily sized and super slick magazine, packed with gritty articles, honest reviews and beautiful photos. Featurin...