YouTube yoga, yes or no?

You are busy, juggling work, night-shifts, family, social life and hobbies. There is not enough time in the day and night combined to do everything you want. Like going to a yoga class. But perhaps you do manage to sneak in a YouTube practice at home every now and then.

If that is you, this blog is for you. 

YouTube Yoga Google search results

Online yoga lessons are becoming increasingly popular. Famous and non-famous yoga teachers appear on YouTube, the number of online memberships for yoga channels is going through the roof, yoga classes are accessible 24/7 and anywhere in the world as long as you have internet. You would think that is a good thing. More yoga is always good, right?

My opinion? Yes and No.

Yes to YouTube Yoga

Online yoga classes certainly are wonderful for people who do not have access to yoga teachers or studios. It is greatly motivating to practice with an (online) video if the only other option is doing nothing for lack of support and guidance.

Back in 2008, I moved to a little desert town by the Red Sea in Egypt. There was no yoga school nearby. Since I really wanted to keep doing yoga, I practiced with DVD’s (not so much online yoga back then yet!). After a few months, we were gathering with a bunch of friends and doing yoga together, after-hours in the school gym with a laptop connected to a projector so we could all see the video properly.  

These DVD’s kept me going for months until I discovered Ashtanga Yoga Mysore style and learned to practice without a teacher. Without those DVD’s, I probably would have abandoned yoga and my life might have turned out completely different.

So yes. If you do not have the possibility to join yoga classes or prefer the comfort of your own home to practice, please turn on your laptop and choose one of the thousands of classes on offer on the internet. Getting on that mat is what is important. If it’s an online yoga class that is going to keep you inspired and motivated, use it.

But… choose your class wisely.

And that but is in fact a lead up to my NO.

No to YouTube Yoga

Based on my experience as a teacher, the greatest disadvantage of pre-recorded classes is the lack of personal interaction and guidance. When I teach, many of my cues are prompted by what I see students doing or not doing. More often than not, I adapt my prepared sequence to the people and the energy in the room. Each body is different and each person needs to do the pose in a way that works for them. Modifications and personal adjustments are often needed, especially for beginners and people who are not fully aware of their body’s position in space. 

The risk of an online class is that the student focusses on posing like the person on-screen rather than on understanding the essence of the pose. Consequently, people force themselves into a shape they are not ready for, hold positions out of alignment and end up injuring themselves.  

Utkatasana Yoga Here & There TTC

Different bodies, different expressions of the same pose. What is good for one, could be harmful for another. We have to take into account body shape, flexibility in the joints, strengths and weaknesses of the muscles and much more.

Another risk of doing online yoga classes alone, is that you miss out on the feedback from other students. When you go to a yoga studio, you can feel from the vibe in the room whether the class is good and if the teacher knows what they are doing. When you practice with a random online video, especially as a beginner, it is much more difficult to assess the quality of the teacher. 

Though it is unlikely that any of this will result in broken bones, torn ligaments or worse, sprains and repetitive strain injuries can occur due to repeated inappropriate alignment of the wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and lower back, especially in the sacroiliac area.

In a nutshell, that is why I say NO to online yoga classes. It is risky to advise students to use random online demos without a note of caution. Simply because we cannot assume that in a video, the teacher can address all the potential issues.

But of course, it’s not all that black and white.

I can totally imagine a situation where you combine online classes with studio classes due to a busy schedule. Perhaps you live somewhere remote without a yoga teacher nearby and go to a yoga retreat once or twice a year, filling your yoga cup with online classes the rest of the time.

My advice to followers of online yoga classes would be to make sure you do your research. Read articles or books and watch videos that explain the alignment of the postures one by one, including the contra-indications and benefits. Follow tutorials, not only classes. Take your time to really understand the poses rather than to just mimic the teacher on your screen.

Here is a small selection of websites that I have found very useful to learn more about the anatomy of yoga, as a student and as a teacher:

loveyogaanatomy.com

www.yoganatomy.com

www.yogajournal.com

When you do have the chance to consult with a yoga teacher, for example during a workshop, ask them for specific points to pay attention to when practicing alone. Perhaps you could even consider getting one or two private classes at home, so that the teacher can look at your personal physical structure and give you tailored recommendations for future reference.

And then, under the guidance of a reliable digital teacher, enjoy a healthy and above all safe practice, at a place of your own choice, in your own time

What Style of Yoga Should I Practice?

Many people still have a very one-sided and fixed image of what yoga is. If you have landed on this page, you are probably aware that in terms of physical (asana) practice, yoga consists of dozens of different styles. Have you figured out yet which practice suits you best?

One of my favourite ways to illustrate there are various types of yoga is to compare it to sports, such as athletics or ball sports. Rugby is hardly the same as tennis for example, yet they are both ball sports. Similarly, the word yoga describes a collection of different practices. Though the ultimate goal for all yoga styles may be the same – reach enlightenment of course – there are many different ways to practice it. Each style has its own specific benefits.

Below I describe the main yoga asana styles, grouped by the most common reasons why people turn to yoga.

Are you looking for stress- and physical tension relief?

Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga are your answer. For either you do not need to be flexible or trained in any way. Experienced teachers can accommodate students with chronic or restrictive conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or scoliosis. People with these conditions would enormously benefit from these types of yoga.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative is super, super relaxing. It is accessible to anyone who is able to sit and lie down. The poses are all on the floor, with plenty of bolsters, blankets and other props to support you. The objective is to relax the entire body and as much of the mind as possible by remaining in very comfortable poses for several minutes. The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, allowing the body to restore and the mind to truly rest. It’s pure bliss for anyone who grants themselves the time.

Restorative Yoga

Yin Yoga

Yin is a gift from heaven if you are looking to release tight joints and relief from chronic aches. It is also very effective to cultivate some more flexibility. Yin Yoga is the perfect complementary practice for those who usually exercise hard such as runners, weight lifters, etc. Yin is aimed at restoring connective tissue health, opening up joints and releasing energy that is locked up in tight muscles (or tight minds). Strength and stamina are useless if you can’t move. Yin Yoga promotes flexibility and therefore mobility. The poses are mostly on the floor and require full relaxation of the muscles with limited prop use. The aim is to allow the body to stretch for 3 to 8 minutes in each pose. This way you create more opening and release than you ever would in daily life.

Yin Yoga

Are you looking for a dynamic practice to work on strength and stamina?

Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga are probably your thing. Both classes build strength, stamina and flexibility. Even when you are a beginner, these styles are accessible for you. Still, it’s a good idea to check whether the level of the class is for beginners or more experienced students. 

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga is for those who enjoy practicing regularly. You will sweat, for sure. It involves a fixed sequence of dynamic Sun Salutations followed by standing and seated poses whereby muscle activation and postural alignment are important. Once you become familiar with the sequence and the asanas (postures), you can really get into the groove, focus on the breath and your stability as you hold each pose for five breaths. That’s when the practice becomes a moving meditation. Don’t think that it ever gets boring. Though the poses may be the same each class, the challenges that your body and mind face are different each practice. If you like to measure progress and fare well with routine and discipline, Ashtanga yoga is perfect for you. Great for hyper-flexible people who need to cultivate strength as well as for strong individuals who need to lengthen their muscles.

Ashtanga yoga is also very suitable for people who cannot always make it to a class. Once you have memorised the fixed sequence, it’s easy to practice in your own time at home or wherever you are (hotel rooms, empty meeting rooms, you name it). This self-practice is encouraged during Mysore style Ashtanga classes. Each student practices the sequence at their own pace. The teacher simply holds space and walks around helping students individually with adjustments and assists.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa is for the creative souls among us. Though based on Hatha and Ashtanga yoga, each class is a different choreography of poses that flow from one to the next. You flow from pose to poses and the transition from asana to asana in sync with the breath makes this practice special. Vinyasa Yoga can vary wildly from teacher to teacher. It is worthwhile checking out different classes to find the one that resonates with you. This style of yoga is the most popular as it complies with all the “required” elements of the modern world: it looks good, it’s a workout, it’s always different so not risk of getting bored, there is usually music so no silence to be confronted with and you get to try a lot of funky poses once you get to the more advanced levels. Vinyasa yoga is fun!

Natarajasana

Are you a novice looking for a foundational practice to promote overall health?

Ashtanga Yoga for beginners or Hatha Yoga are what you should be looking for.

As described above, Ashtanga Yoga is based on a fixed sequence so ideal for classes set up for beginners. Experienced teachers know how to explain the poses to you step by step, building up your knowledge of alignment and correct posture as you go. You intimately get to know your body, its strengths and its weaknesses. Ashtanga is an excellent basis for other yoga practices and improves your fitness immensely.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha is often considered a great starting point for beginners. Poses are held for a long time (often eight breaths of longer) so you have time to assimilate what your body is doing. There are no complicated or fancy transitions between postures. Traditionally-oriented teachers also incorporate plenty of pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation in the practice. Make no mistake, Hatha Yoga can be very challenging the moment the poses become even only a little bit more complex, since the technique is to hold them for a while.

Virabhadrasana I

And what about all those other classes?

The above-mentioned styles are the most common variations of yoga taught in general yoga studios and gyms around the world. Depending on the teacher, they can vary in degree of difficulty.

There are of course many other forms of yoga, though some of them are simply modern names for traditional practices. Then there are the classes in a style adapted by an individual teacher or school. You might have heard of Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, Hot Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Dru and many others. Most of these forms of yoga are somewhere in between Ashtanga, Hatha and Vinyasa/ They can incorporate other practices such as meditation and Pranayama.

And you will also encounter other very specific schools of yoga, such as:

Iyengar – very alignment-oriented and with the use of props to support postures
Kundalini – emphasizing the consciousness that activates energy centers throughout the body, by stretching, breathing, jumping, running, dancing, yelling, chanting and meditating
Bikram – fixed sequence of 26 Hatha poses in a room heated up to 40 degrees

We would love to hear which style of yoga you practice. Drop us a line in the comments below to tell us what special styles you have encountered around the world.

What is Yoga?

So you have heard yoga is good for you.

Perhaps you have heard yoga is only for flexible people. Or for hippies. Maybe for bored housewives.

Indeed, it’s all of that and much more. Yoga is for everybody. And for every body. If you can breathe you can do yoga, in one form or another. And we can definitely all benefit from it.

But what then, you may ask, is yoga exactly? 

Well, here is a (very, very) short explanation going beyond the standard “exercises on the mat” reputation it has.

What is yoga?

The practice of Yoga originated in India and the word itself translates from Sanskrit as “union”.  Although open to many interpretations, it is often referred to as the union between the “Individual” and the “Universe” or between the “Body, Mind and Soul”. To attain this union, in other words to become enlightened and achieve liberation, several paths have developed throughout the millennia.

Altar Yoga Here & There BaliAltar in our yoga shala in Bali. Different gods, different gurus, different practices.

Karma Yoga

Have you ever heard of Mother Theresa, the catholic nun who dedicated years of her life to the poor and sick in India? You could say that she was a true practitioner of Karma Yoga. She chose the path of selfless service. Enlightenment can be achieved by this kind of dedication. Perhaps you already practice yoga, without realising it, such as volunteering or charity work. Especially if you do it as an act of pure selflessness without expecting anything in return, not even gratefulness from those you help, then you are indeed a yogi.

Jnana and Bhakti Yoga

Two other paths of yoga are Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Jnana yoga practitioners are the intellectuals. They use their will and power of discrimination to cut through the veil of ignorance and attain the Truth. They study ancient texts and scriptures and also practice mental techniques of self-questioning and deep reflection in order to find the Truth. Through Truth, achieve liberation.

Bhakti yogis are the emotional ones. They follow the path of love and devotion. They chose a spiritual practice focused on loving devotion towards one or more gods. Are you familiar with all those offering rituals and ceremonies in Bali? That’s a form of bhakti yoga.

Balinese Ceremony Yoga Here & There
Ceremony in Bali

Raja Yoga

The path that we are most familiar with in our modern era is Raja Yoga, or Royal Yoga, the path of self-control and self-mastery. The method to practice Raja Yoga is by following the Eight Limbs of Yoga. These are:

1.     Yama: five guidelines on how to interact with others
2.     Niyama: five observances to keep the body and mind clean
3.     Asana
4.     Pranayama: breath control, extension of life-force
5.     Pratyahara: withdrawal from the senses, mastery over external influences
6.     Dharana: concentration on a single point of focus
7.     Dhyana: meditation, continuous concentration
8.     Samadhi: direct perception of the true Self

I might get to explain all of these limbs to you in subsequent blogs, but for now, did you notice the one in bold?

Practice on the mat

That is the limb we nowadays generally refer to as yoga: the asana practice, the physical practice of yoga postures. The purpose of asana practice is to purify the body, to free it of dis-eases or anything that could make you feel uncomfortable when you try to sit still to meditate. Because hey, you need to meditate for hours on end in order to achieve self-control, right?

Meditation Yoga Here & There
Meditation practice during our yoga teacher training in Bali.

The warriors, the tree poses, the lotus poses: these are asanas, physical yoga postures. Perhaps that is what you have been told yoga is. Sweating on the mat, trying to touch your toes. Indeed, that could be part of your yoga practice, although the practice would be in the “trying to touch” rather than in the “touch your toes” bit. 

But as you have gathered by now, yoga is much more than that.

Yoga is about physical wellbeing, absolutely, but also about mental strength, emotional balance and spiritual peace. About mindfully connecting to the world around us and about knowing how to surrender without fatalism, about being disciplined without being dogmatic. Furthermore, practicing yoga can make you more focussed, help you get rid of anxiety, improve your mobility, improve your outlook on life… I could go on and on, but you probably already think I’m getting carried away.

Concluding, yoga can definitely be beneficial, whether you are a bored housewife or a hippie. And everything in between.

Come check us out in at Coconut Yoga Bali in Amed, Bali or at Yoga Here & There in the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia for daily asana classes.

To learn more than just about the physical practice, have a look at our 200-hour Teacher Training Course, which is great for those who already know they want to teach and also for those who simply wish to deepen their knowledge about yoga.

Sankalpa

Have you ever wondered how it works, sankalpa, that intention setting that the yoga teachers invites you to do at the beginning of a yoga class?

It took me a while to find a way that works for me but now that I have, I use it as much off the yoga mat as on.

My experience with fruitfully setting intentions does not come from studying the scriptures or from extensive meditation sessions. The health coaching skills that I picked up during my studies at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition were very helpful. But I mostly learned by doing and much of it by trial and error. You can scroll down to find a video in which I tell you about this wonderful, unexpected experience.

Yaisa on the Beach in Sellicks

Let me first list what I think intention setting is not about. It’s not about (and this is not an exhaustive list):
– asking to win the lottery or any other (materialistic) possession
– wishing somebody ill
– verbalising a wish and then letting go of any responsibility.

Consider this example: your car broke down and you have no money to fix it or to buy a new one. You have a serious transportation problem. As a sankalpa, it would be easy to express something like: “I want a new car” or “I need money to buy a new car.”

That’s the solution to all your problems, right? But does that sound like an intention that comes from the right place? If a friend would ask you exactly that in those words, would you be inclined to help?

Instead, look at the underlying issue. What are you not able to fulfill without transport? Who is going to get in trouble if you can’t drive? Perhaps, a better wording of your sankalpa is “I need a way to remain independent” or “I will do anything to keep my job” or “My children will not miss a single day of school.”

Already, the phrasing of your “wish” is less superficial. It’s not about you owning a car, but about the purpose of the car.

Broken 2CVBy Arnaud 25 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Next, ask yourself how you can inject this “request” to the universe with some positivity and conviction. There is a simple, grammatical solution to that. Rephrase your intention in an affirmative form and in the present tense.  So for example: “I am independent” or “The solution to my transport problem exists.”  Perhaps it doesn’t feel that way just yet, but by infusing yourself with this optimism, you tap into a pool of energy that knows no limits.

Another layer that you can add to your intention setting is to visualise the result. It only takes a couple of minutes. You can do it in bed, before you fall asleep. Imagine yourself driving a car to work or visualise getting a phone call from a colleague offering you to carpool. Smell the interior of the new car, hear the voice of your colleague. Don’t dwell on your current problems, instead focus on seeing, feeling, smelling or tasting the future. Visualising is a very powerful tool to direct every cell in your body towards a solution.

Once you have set your intention and done your visualising, don’t sit back and think that God (or whoever/whatever) will solve it all for you. I don’t think that that is how it works. I believe in Newton’s Third Law that action is reaction. You still need to keep your eyes open for solutions, explore your opportunities and do all the mundane things you can think of to achieve your objective. All the positive energy you put into finding a solution to your problem will reflect back on you and your will see it returned, somehow.

At Sellicks Beach

The last step however, is the most important one. And that is that you need to trust and surrender to the Universe, believing that it will present you with what you need and deserve. It could be exactly what you visualised in one of your fantasies or it could be totally unexpected.  Be open to whatever you are presented with and fully embrace it.

It could be that your neighbour breaks his leg and can’t drive their car for the next six weeks, so in return for doing his shopping, you can borrow his car for a while, giving you enough time to save money for a repair. Or your childless great-aunt passes away and leaves you and your cousins with a small inheritance, just enough for you to buy a second-hand car. Is the solution always perfect? Perhaps not. But it is a wish come true.

Just recently, as I was really hoping for a larger number of students in my Ashtanga classes, I set the following intention: “I am successful at sharing my love and passion for Ashtanga yoga”. I visualised full class rooms, spent a couple of minutes remembering the students that had come to my Ashtanga classes in the past but I hadn’t seen in a while and promoted my classes on social media with renewed energy. And believe it or not, but not only has the number of students been increasing since, but I even got asked to teach a new Ashtanga class at location where I had previously never taught. I would say, mission accomplished.

Yoga at Gemtree Winery

So now, let’s look at sankalpa from another perspective. A sankalpa does not necessarily need to be a solution to a problem. It can also be about something that you would like to invite into your life in a more general sense. A vision for your near or long-term future.

An example of this is the key word that I choose for my vision board this year: expansion. It does not concern an immediate or urgent situation, but it’s the state of mind that I wish to live in. For 2018, I desire expansion of my business, expansion of my knowledge and my skills so that I can help more yoga students and health coaching clients, expansion of my horizons by travelling and meeting new people…

My sankalpa could be: “I live an expansive life” or “My experiences continuously expand my life”, but in this case I kept it simple. It’s simply “Expansion”.  I repeat it like a mantra, I use the word as much as I can when appropriate and every time I undertake something, new or routine, I think: “Yes, this is expansion”. Heck, the whole purpose of this blog is about spreading the vibe even more!

Visionboard 2018

And surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising), since I have planted this seed deep in my subconscious, several really great things have been presented to me. Some totally unexpected, others as the direct result of long standing efforts.

There is one event in particular that was way beyond my imagination and that enriched my life in a sense that I have never experience before. I tell you about this story in the video below.

In the meantime, ask me any question you have about Sankalpa and feel free to share your experience with intention setting below in the comment section.

Have you ever set an intention with a successful outcome? Have you ever had amazing gifts presented to you in the most unexpected beautiful ways? I would love to hear from you

Practicing Yoga with a Frozen Shoulder.

During any respectable teacher training, the topic “yoga & injuries” is an important subject, from the angle of injury prevention as well as from the perspective of practicing with existing injuries.

Whilst I studied this during my 200-hour teacher training and additional yoga anatomy courses over the years, my single best lesson was the frozen shoulder I sustained in 2015.

Sharing my experiences with you, the mistakes I made as well as the positive decisions I took, will hopefully help those of you suffering from a similar injury.

In February 2015 I had a seemingly harmless scooter accident in Bali. I slid over a bit of mud on the road and fell on my left side, hitting the tarmac with my arm and shoulder and the side of my – thankfully helmeted – head.

 

Though I felt a bit bruised on the left side of my rib cage – probably because I elbowed myself upon impact – I didn’t think anything of it and travelled home as planned the next day.

Over the course of the following weeks, the pain in my ribs disappeared but I noticed a slight pinch at the front of my left shoulder joint. So I went easy on the yoga practice and decided that rest was the best thing to do.

I basically ignored the growing pain I felt in my shoulder, not only because I thought it would go away by itself but also because I was busy moving from Egypt to Australia.

Aside from a couple of random visits along the way to a physiotherapist and a chiropractor who couldn’t really help me because I was on the move, I pretended everything was in order which in retrospect of course wasn’t the case.

The sharp pinches in my shoulder were gradually becoming worse, especially when I was making sudden or large movements with my left arm. I tried to give my arm more “rest” by using it less. Consequently, my range of motion became more and more restricted. Within a few months, I could hardly extend, flex, internally rotate or externally rotate at the left shoulder joint at all.

In normal English, I couldn’t put my left hand in my waist, lift my arm high enough to shave my armpit, make a pony tail or pull the car door shut. By July 2015, it was even too painful to bring a cup to my mouth, open a jar, sleep on my left side, hold the steering wheel or shift gears, which in Australia you do with the left hand.

The pain would sometimes shoot down from the front of my shoulder around the shoulder joint, into the armpit, down my biceps and sometimes even reach my fingers.

One day, while cooking, I burned my left hand and in reaction, jerked my arm back. The ensuing pain was so extreme that I sat crouched on the floor trying to fight back my tears for a good two minutes. And it was not because of the burn.

Needless to say that by then I was unable to do any kind of yoga. Poses requiring the slighest arm movement were impossible. Even gentle, reclined and supported shoulder openers were not an option.

When I settled in Australia in September 2015, I finally had the time to do something about it. I saw an osteopath who advised me to get an ultra sound in order to confirm his suspicion that I had a frozen shoulder and an inflammation. Up until then, I had not even bothered to get a proper diagnosis.


The exact location of where I felt the impingement initially.

Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder joint capsule) and bursitis (inflammation of the bursae) was the verdict. The first thing the GP advised me was to get a cortisone injection to reduce the inflammation.

I declined respectfully and went on a full fledged vegan diet, topped up with extra ginger, turmeric and garlic. Two weeks later, the inflammation was gone.

The inflammation was the biggest cause of the pain that I felt when trying to move. And if you can’t move, you can’t open a frozen joint. Now that the pain was gone, I was ready to start defrosting my shoulder.

Having read that a frozen shoulder can take several years to heal, I would, in my darkest moments, fear that my career as a yoga teacher was going to freeze too. However, the Health Coaching course that I had started, opened up a world of healing, food-based alternatives for me.

I continued a highly anti-inflammatory diet, with lots of green juices, no processed foods, very little articifial sugars, powerful supplements like Juice Plus, golden turmeric paste and healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds, avocados and fish oil. Instead of asana practice, I took up running, the only physical activity I could think of that didn’t require shoulder “effort”.

The osteopath would (usually) gently work on the range of motion of my shoulder, loosening up the connective tissues around the joint and releasing tension from neck, spine and pelvis. An acupuncturist helped by bringing my energies back in balance, needling in my hips, legs, fingers and feet and sometimes even putting electric voltage on the needles.

The “dead” feeling I had had in my arm for months (despite the pain), was slowly dissipating and it was coming back to life. Deep tissue and hot stone massages further helped the releasing of tightness in my shoulder.

One interesting recommendation came from the acupuncturist. Traditional Chinese Medicine does not just focus on and treat the “afflicted” area, but considers any illness or condition an imbalance of the entire body. During the treatment he suggested that I stop using hormonal contraception.

Observing that I had a strong constitution and was living a pretty healthy lifestyle already, he repeated word for word what an Ayurvedic doctor had already told me two years prior: the only thing that was possibly creating an imbalance in my body was the IUD.

And though it was the physical trauma of the accident and my subsequent ignoring of the injury that caused the frozen shoulder, it was very possible that a hormonal imbalance was impeding the healing process. So I said goodbye to my Mirena and after 25 years of birth control, hello to a body free of artificial hormones (and hello to PMS, but that’s a different story).

Bit by bit, my shoulder thawed. I introduced asanas into my life again with restorative poses and plenty of props. Slowly but surely, I was able to join gentle Vinyasa classes, although for the longest time all my down dogs were three legged dogs (one arm, two legs) and my trees would have one very sad branch. Planks, chaturangas and upward facing dogs also started coming back into my practice.

My left arm, which had visibly lost muscle mass, was growing back in strength. I got back into my Ashtanga practice and by June 2016 I was able to do a solid headstand again.

It took another full year for me to be able to open my left arm properly in poses like Revolved Triangle, for the combination of abduction and extension was the most stubborn one to master again. I cursed my way through a lot of shoulder openers Yin style to get there.


Broken Wing, or Evil Shoulder Opener, as I prefer to call it.

Yet here I am, two and a half years to the date after the scooter accident, roughly two years after I started regular treatment and adapted my lifestyle to my situation. I finally feel I am back where I was before the frozen shoulder.

Did I heal thanks to the osteopath? Or was it the acupuncturist? Would I have healed just as fast if I hadn’t gone running? Was it really necessary to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet? Was the removal of the UID of any use? Would simple massages have been enough? Was it the restorative yoga that did the trick or should I have pushed harder in my yoga practice to heal sooner? 

Who knows. If you thought this article was only going to be about yoga poses, I guess I tricked you into it. Yoga asanas are not a miracle cure by themselves. It’s always a package deal. Yoga is about how you live your life, not just those 60 minutes per day on the mat.

This frozen shoulder has been the best teacher I have had.

I learned how to heal naturally (I did not take a single painkiller or other pharmaceutical in the process), was taught patience (still not my strongest virtue), experimented with modified yoga poses and yoga styles to adapt my practice to my capabilities, was introduced to therapies and healing methods I had never needed before. And I now also know from my own experience that ignoring a problem is not going to make it go away.

These lessons have not only made me healthier and happier, but also a more versatile and multi-faceted teacher and health coach. I hope that they can be of benefit to you just as much as they have to me.

Comments or questions welcome!

Diary of Lazy Ashtangi and Why I Do Not Encourage Practicing Yoga with a Video.

Practicing in Purple Valley

Yep, that’s me ↑ in Petri Räisänen’s Led Class in Purple Valley, Goa, India in February 2010.

As I sit down and finally have time to write my next blog, I realise a month has passed since my last diary entry. Somehow, I lost track of time, like everybody else who has been dealing with the craziness upon approaching Christmas time, in Australia also known as the Summer Holidays.

Of course I love all the busy-ness, I have always relished working under pressure, but it did mean that my daily yoga practice became… well, more of a weekly yoga practice. However, I did manage to come up with some interesting results in this ongoing research of self-motivation to get on that mat as often as possible.

As I concluded in my last blog, I really enjoyed practicing with the video of John Scott’s Full Primary Series. This made me decide to investigate further so in the past few weeks, I have practiced with David Swenson, Petri Räisänen and Lesley Fightmaster. I had never heard of this last name before, but somehow she was mentioned to me twice recently so I decided to check her out.

The highlight was that in my digital archives, I also found the led class recorded with Petri when I was in Purple Valley. So last week, I practiced with that video as well and it’s almost identical to the online version with one major difference: I get to practice with my 34-old self and two of my friends who were there with me.

How is that for great company during a lonesome self-practice at home!

Anyway, below you will find my findings about each video, but first, let me say this: if you a beginner, I do not recommend practicing (Ashtanga) yoga with a video.

I believe that any asana practice should be taught under the supervision of a teacher. And no, I don’t necessarily mean a certified, authorised or otherwise registered person. I simply mean a person with the right experience, able and willing to share knowledge with another person.

In my opinion, physical alignment, breath control and mindful transitions between poses are crucial for a safe and beneficial asana practice. Since these aspects differ widely per person, personal guidance is very important.

Example: if a teacher on YouTube says that for Virabhadrasana B the heel of the front foot should line up with the arch of the back foot, that may be the perfect alignment for herself or the hyperflexible model in the video. However, for a large majority of the other practitioners, especially beginners, this may not be ideal at all.  I won’t go into the details as to why, but you know, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, lower back, instability, etc…

Google it and you’ll find plenty of good and bad articles illustrating what I mean. However, when you are doing an online class, I doubt you would interrupt your practice to google your alignment options, even when you feel quite unstable and are pretty sure that you don’t look as gracious as that skinny lady in her pretzel pose on your screen.

I think I made my point. If you are a beginner, go to a yoga teacher to learn how to practice asanas. Once you understand the basic alignment principles and more importantly, once you know your own body well enough to understand its strengths, weaknesses, limitations and needs, I think you could benefit from recorded classes as a support and inspiration, not so much for instructional purposes.

My rule of thumb would be that you are ready to practice Ashtanga with a video when listening to the counting is enough and you don’t need to look at the screen to understand what to do.

I can think of at least one exception to everything I said before and that is when there are simply no teachers available to you. Before I discovered Ashtanga, I practiced with Vinyasa DVD’s while I was living in a small village by the Red Sea in Egypt where I later became one of the first yoga teachers. There were no teachers around so there was no choice. Although practicing with the videos may not have taught me perfect alignment nor the philosophy behind the asanas, it did keep my passion for yoga going.

Also a reason why Ashtanga yoga lends itself well for recordings would be that it is a fixed sequence, therefore once you are familiar with it, you don’t need to look at what the video shows you. Listening is enough (see my rule of thumb above). With Vinyasa or any other form of yoga that does not know a fixed sequence, you will probably need to look up from your pose to understand exactly what you are supposed to do, thereby compromising your alignment.

Anyway, don’t let my rant above discourage you. I just try to make you aware of the limitations and risks of practicing with a non-interactive teacher. The same could be said of a teacher that does not do any adjustments and is too busy demonstrating the sequence and poses to properly supervise the students.

So Ashtanga encourages self-practice every morning, either in a Mysore style setting or alone, limited to the asanas that you have been give by your real-life teacher(s). My problem with self-practice at home is that I am simply not good at practicing alone. I miss the energy of fellow Ashtangis breathing and sweating next to me, I miss the observing eyes of the teacher and the incentive of practicing in a group setting.

Practicing with a video kind of fills some of those gaps. It’s a bit like going to a led class with a teacher that doesn’t do any hands-on adjustments. It has the added advantage that you can fast forward to the finishing sequence if for any reason, you are not doing the Full Primary that day, a good reason being that you haven’t been given all the poses yet.

By clicking on the links, you will find my reviews of the recordings of the Full Primary Series by the four previously mentioned teachers.

I would love to get your feedback on how you feel practicing with these, or any other videos!

Review of David Swenson First Series

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass and Fightmaster Yoga

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Led Primary Series with Petri Räisänen

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Led Primary Series with Petri Räisänen.

By far my favourite recording so far, because Petri, another amazing Ashtanga teacher, actually leads a class. It’s not a manicured, staged demonstration with a voice-over and edits. No, this is a real life led class, filled with Ashtangis of all levels and Petri guides the class through the Primary Series adjusting his pace and his instructions to the energy in the room. He does hands-on adjustments throughout and you can hear the shuffling, the panting, the jumping of the students.

He counts in Sanskrit and his Finnish accent make the pronounciation of the asanas much more acceptable to my ears than the American one. This class also lasts a good fifteen minutes longer than all the other ones. No rush, time for long deep Ujjayi breaths and best of all, when you practice with the video, you practice with 30 other students. I love it.

Another reason for me to love this recording, is because six years before this recording was made, I was there, practicing with Petri in Purple Valley. I know that shala, its echos, its smells and I know his voice. Petri was the first teacher to help me into Marichyanasa C without any struggle (he is an energy healer and renown for his amazing adjustments) and simply breathing through this practice at the count of his voice brings me back to India.

Total duration: 1 hour 49 minutes
Practice starts at 8 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 17 minutes.

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass and Fightmaster Yoga.

If you thought the David Swenson’s and John Scott’s videos were fast paced, than this one will have you hyperventilating. In less than one and a half hour, Lesley Fightmaster has you running through the entire Primary Series. Somewhere halfway, you can hear her sucking on a candy which I found distracting, although I understand that you can get pretty thirsty talking and counting for 90 minutes non-stop.

As she emphasises herself at the beginning of the practice, this is not meant for beginners as she does not give any alignment instructions nor modifications. Jessica Kass has a pretty practice with a few quirky habits. She adopts Anjali mudra every time in Samasthitih and does Gyan Mudra with her loose hand in the seated poses, something Patthabi Jois discouraged. Indeed, you will see most traditional Ashtangis make a fist, but hey, each their own rituals!

The counting is in Sanskrit and Lesley has a pleasant voice, yet altogether this was much too fast for me. I breathe super slow, but Lesley counts the breath to get into the pose as the first of the five holding breaths and uses the fifth breath to get out of the pose, effectively holding the pose for only three breaths. Perhaps this is how they practice in downtown Manhattan or LA where people live in a constant rush, but my background is the lush jungle or lazy beaches of Bali and India, where everybody has the time to breathe and a full practice takes at least 1 hour 45 minutes. I must admit I have never been to Mysore so I don’t know what the average practice time is at the main shala, I do know that the led classes are very fast. The idea of practicing alone however, is that you adopt your own pace.

So if you like a slow and intense practice, this would not be a suitable recording.

Total duration: 1 hour 24 minutes
Practice starts at 50 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 7 minutes 10 seconds

Review of David Swenson First Series.

David Swenson is another teacher from the old lineage and although the video must be at least three decades old judging by his clothes, his teachings are still invaluable. The video starts with a thorough introduction on what Ashtanga yoga is, what the important elements of the practice are and how to do the Surya Namaskaras and Vinyasas. Very useful for beginners.

Interestingly enough he skips the opening mantra and counts only in English, instead of the traditional Sanskrit. He gives plenty of options for beginners and instructions how to get into the poses, possibly even more than John Scott. Also David likes to stretch his arms out and jump in between standing postures which makes me think that this must have been the way in the old days. This and also lifting the chest and chin on the inhale before getting into the standing poses is not practiced much anymore nowadays. When practicing with Sharath at the main shala Mysore, I have been told that students are explicitly instructed not to look up or back bend when inhaling before folding over into the pose.

Even though also David Swenson counts a little bit too fast to my liking, I use the time he spends giving instruction on how to get into the pose to get one or two breaths in and so I often manage to take about four breaths, sometimes even five.

It’s a brilliant video and I like practicing with David.

Total duration: 1 hour 56 minutes
Practice starts at 24 minutes 10 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 32 minutes 40 seconds

Review of John Scott’s Ashtanga Yoga The Primary Series.

John Scott guides you through the Primary Series with full vinyasas, meaning that after almost each seated asana, he returns to standing and goes through a vinyasa before getting into the next. Considering that he does all that in just over one and a half hour, you will find that it is rather fast-paced. He does however, give a lot of instructions to get into the pose yet his voice is quite relaxed despite all the cues he manages to give in a short time. Beginners will find that he does not give any modifications though, so be mindful if you haven’t been taught the full expression of a pose yet.

He also gives the exact vinyasa count (the number of breaths) to get into each pose and he counts in Sanskrit, which I love. However, his Sanskrit pronounciation is terribly American and to me, a little bit distracting in the beginning. After a while, I got used to it and I really enjoyed this practice.

Although you shouldn’t be looking at the video while practicing (you’ll never hear him say that the drishti is on your screen), you might notice that he jumps to the side and back to get into and out of the standing poses and has his arms out to the side. I always practice (and teach) to step rather than jump and keep the arms in the waist, in order to bring some awareness to the alignment of the hips. If jumping is your thing, then by all means…

This recording is probably quite a few years old but traditional Ashtangis will certainly appreciate it.

Total duration: 1 hour 36 minutes
Practice starts at 3 minutes 25 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 17 minutes 30 seconds