1. Please could you describe what Hatha yoga is?
There are so many definitions and descriptions of yoga, but basically yoga is a system which allows us to deepen our awareness and become more balanced. Most people come to yoga to benefit the body, to become healthy, strong, flexible and vibrant. Often we also find calm and clarity - yoga is freedom: as we return to the present moment we experience the true nature of our natural mind and a state of complete happiness.
Yoga is an ancient tradition which was developed in India and has existed in some form since at least 500 BCE (possibly longer). Yoga is a way of living, not a religion, and is therefore available to everyone.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit (scriptural language of ancient India) word yui meaning to “yoke’ or “unite”. Yoga joins the body, breath, mind and heart back into union, and we experience a connection to something greater than ourselves, a seamless harmony of being; what athletes and artists describe as being “in the zone”.
(The Sanskrit word yoga means “union”, that is, union or harmony of body, mind and spirit.) **Short explanation!
The term hatha derives from ha, meaning “sun”, and tha, meaning “moon”, symbolizing life force and consciousness. Hatha yoga offers a way to experience this integration along a path involving very specific practices that purify the body, calm the mind and open the heart.
2. How is this different from other yoga practices, like Vinyasa etc?
Hatha yoga is grounded in physical practices, and therefore any form of yoga which uses postures (in Sanskrit “asana”) is Hatha yoga. Some have a direct uninterrupted lineage connected to India, others bear little resemblance to traditional yoga. Popular styes practiced today are: Vinyasa Flow, Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Kundulini, Power yoga... and many others which offer slight variations with a branded name. All Hatha yoga is Vinyasa Flow, vinyasa simply means “to place in a special way” and flow denoting the conscious dynamism of movement within and between poses. Some classes flow more than others: whilst some styles will be fast paced and dynamic, others will be slow and quiet (like yin or restorative). In looking for a class to suit your needs check how it’s billed, enquire with the teacher and try things out. Each teacher brings forth their own history, training, knowledge and experience... it’s often worth trying out different styles or teachers.
3. How is this different from other yoga practices, like Vinyasa etc?
I love yoga because it makes me feel grounded and content. When I attended my first yoga class in my early 20s I knew I had found something which could really change the way I thought and felt: yoga made me feel deeply content, like being at home with myself. Throughout young adulthood I had wrestled with insecurities and anxiety, despite a confident and outgoing exterior. Although I had a great childhood, there was a lot of internal struggle, we had moved around a lot and therefore I spent a lot of time on my own, friendships were not long lasting, and I had a tendency towards introspection. Yoga for me is about developing the tools to navigate who I am in order to live a life which is more comfortable. It’s about acknowledging the experiences and decisions which have shaped us, paying attention to the thoughts and sensations of the moment, in order to respond to life less from patterns of defense but more from integrity.
4. How long did you train for?
Yoga is a lifelong practice, and as such we are continually learning. I have practiced for over 20 years, originally in Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, a series of dynamic but repeated postures and breathing exercises. I am grateful that I discovered the Ashtanga tradition as it established me in a commitment to practice yoga regularly. Then (as now) I practiced most days at home, and in the studio 3 times a week. I travelled to India to broaden my knowledge of Indian and Hindu culture, studied yoga informally, and attended Vipassana meditation courses. Vipassana is a wonderfully simple technique which uses self-observation as a tool for self-transformation. It had a profound effect on me and transformed my yoga practice. Since then I have continued to attend workshops, trainings and classes with many reputable teachers of all kinds of yoga and personal development. Yoga supported me throughout my pregnancies and is invaluable now as a mother; learning to adapt, adjust and accommodate. After having my children I wanted to do more nourishing ‘work’, so I took a yoga teacher training course. I completed the 18 month 200hr training with YogaCampus, the training body of London’s The Life Centre, and I am certified by The British Wheel of Yoga. Additionally I trained to teach yoga for pregnancy and postnatal recovery with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, an inspirational teacher and voice in the field of women’s yoga and health (read her amazing book “Yoni Shakti”). I continue my professional development by ongoing study, intensive training courses, and study days with BWY.
5. Why do you think this type of yoga practice is particularly good for anyone recovering from surgery or illness?
Yoga offers a variety of tools and techniques with which we can work towards integration and a balance of energies on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Practicing yoga can change our attitude towards life and towards our experiences, we develop the inner strength and stability that enables us to face and deal with all the experiences and crises that life brings us. Yoga strengthens the body to help deal with the uncomfortable side-effects of treatment, both during and after treatment.
Yoga asanas stimulate the muscles, increase blood flow, balance the glands and enhance the lymphatic flow in the body, all of which supports the body’s ability to remain well. Many gentle techniques will promote healing by clearing toxins, removing blockages that hinder the free flow of energy and raising energy levels.
Breathing exercises release tension and replenish energy. We learn how to replace poor ineffectual breathing habits with more healthy, life-enhancing ones. Simple breathing exercises can help to deal with the strong emotions that a cancer diagnosis gives rise to: panic, grief, despair. We observe how our emotions affect our breathing, but when we learn to change our breathing patterns we can create more serenity and balance. The breath is the link between body, mind and spirit.
Meditation develops mental focus and sharpens our powers of observation and perception, we are able to see thing more clearly as they are and understand the workings of the mind. Using the mind with intention to create a positive outcome affirms self-love. Deep relaxation allows the body to relax, the mind to quieten, and tension to dissolve. As body and mind ‘let go’ inner healing can take place.
8. What would you say to anyone who is thinking about starting a class but is a bit nervous (for whatever reasons!)
There are many different approaches to yoga, so take time to do a bit of research. First contact the teacher, find out about what classes are offered and let them know about your health. A teacher might ask to meet for an individual session to get to know you, and learn how to adapt yoga practices to suit your individual needs. Often one connects with a particular teacher who seems to offer exactly what is needed at that time.
Many people feel a little apprehensive before taking their first yoga class, whatever their circumstance, but we all begin somewhere! A good teacher will reassure you, explain things in great detail, and show kindness and compassion. If particular yoga postures feel challenging, don’t feel compelled to do everything. There are always adaptations, and the benefits of yoga extend well beyond your ability to achieve any particular physical shape. Listen to your own intuition, listen to your body and allow it to tell you what is right.
These are a collection of blogs written by other cancer patients, survivors, friends and family as well as wellbeing and health therapists who wanted to share their expertise to help inspire and encourage us with recovery and healing. Over the last thirteen years I have put a lot of time and focus into my own self care and I have explored many activities and products that I wanted to share, so I have written a few too! Enjoy xx