Yoga was brought to the western world in the 1960s and has never left. Based on ancient poses that came in visions to the sage Patanjali, yoga is a great way to get fit, stay relaxed and live in the moment. It has however come under fire of late, as it has sadly been found that many of the ‘gurus’ of the top yoga schools spent years sexually and sometimes physically abusing their students. What stuck was that many of the top schools defended their gurus, rather than address the claims, which has led many to focus more on the poses for fitness, rather than the rhetoric of those who did not practice what they preached.
Always use a qualified teacher to begin to avoid injury (don’t practice while pregnant unless under guidance of a teacher). Avoid inversions for menstruation and medical conditions. Online, we Ekhart Yoga (a good price for qualified classes) or for free classes, try Charlie Follows.
an illustrated guide to yoga postures
Yoga Anatomy Made Simple is a delightful guide to this wonderful of exercise for mind, body and spirit. Although yoga is deep and complicated, most books are either celebrity dross, or so spiritual that they go a bit weird and uncomfortable for the average western reader. However, this book takes all the important stuff, adds colourful illustrations and makes learning how to do postures correctly fun.
Knowledge of anatomy is crucial when practicing yoga, as you want to know why you are doing the postures, not just how. But most yoga anatomy subject matter can be dry and difficult. Instead, this book (for written for yoga practitioners and teachers) by a long-time yoga teacher pairs expert knowledge with real-life examples and colourful illustrations, to understand the benefits of each posture, and understand why certain postures are easier or more difficult than others, for different people. Concepts are demonstrated on different body parts and posture groups:
- Forward bends
- Hip rotations
- Shoulder postures
- Arm balances
Embracing each student’s lifestyle, environment and life history, learn how to analyse postures from a physical perspective, create effective yoga sequences and avoid unnecessary injury. Stu Girling has been teaching yoga anatomy workshops for years, and specialises in treating injuries and tension patterns.
non-slip jute yoga mats & accessories
Complete Unity Yoga is one of the best brands of yoga mat, made from sustainable jute and designed to be non-slip. Ironically (considering that yoga is about helping the planet), most yoga mats on sale are made from toxic PVC, which also means they get slippery when wet. Lightweight and easy to transport, you can also fold this yoga-mat so it’s ideal for travel or taking to yoga class.
Loved by practitioners and yoga teachers worldwide, the mat is made from sustainably-harvested natural tree rubber and jute fibres, and gives incredible grip, so you’ll never fall on your face, while in Downward Facing Dog again! Also good for fitness or Pilates, it’s easy to clean and free from microfibres. Ethically made and packaged in FSC-certified craft paper, it has a natural rubber fragrance.
A disturbing aspect of yoga is that although it’s designed to be a focus for simple living, many of the mats, accessories (and clothes) used in yoga are very polluting. Most yoga mats are made from PVC (a deadly chemical that pollutes everything in site and has health concerns), and most ‘trendy’ yoga clothing is now made from recycled plastic, which (unless you use a plumbed-in microplastic catcher) leaches microplastics back into the sea, from where the plastic originally came. Just stick to loose organic cotton or hemp clothing.
Stretching on cheap flimsy mats can cause injuries and bring you out of alignment, rather than the other way around. A good yoga mat should last you years if not decades. There are a few choices, cork is one good one (especially for ashtanga or ‘hot yoga’ as it gets more grippy, the more you sweat). Other choices are organic cotton, hemp and jute (many blocks and accessories are made from bamboo, the world’s fastest growing grass – industrial bamboo is not the same as fresh shoots eaten by pandas).
We love these yoga blocks, made from the waste flops collected from oceans, which helps to rid the seas of one of the most littered plastic items, and also helps to provide sustainable income for people in Kenya. The colourful blocks are ideal for Iyengar and other block-based poses.
Cork Yogis makes quality yoga mats and accessories from cork, which does not require trees to be cut down, workers simply strip the bark every 9 years or so. Keeping the cork industry alive helps to protect forests that are home to native wildlife (important in a world of plastic wine corks). A portion of profits are used to help survivors of human trafficking. The thickest mats are best for outdoor or uneven surfaces, or extra cushioning for injuries.
Brentwood Home (USA) offers a lovely range of organic cotton yoga mats, in beautiful colours. Obviously these are good for the planet, as the cotton industry is responsible for around a quarter of all the world’s pesticides. Made with a natural rubber anti-skid bottom, these are super-thick and super-comfy and biodegrade nicely at end of use. The woven fabric means the textured mat wicks away moisture, so you won’t slip nor have to wipe down the mat in hot yoga. Great for forearm and kneeling poses, and for tender knees or achy joints (a good reason to do yoga!)
try some facial yoga exercises
Botox is a poison used medically to stop sweating and can also be used to stop frowning, hence why it’s used to reverse wrinkles and prevent new ones. However it not only stops you making expressions, but as a medical product, each fresh batch is tested on cutey mice. Campaigners want a law change. Because now that it’s illegal to use animal testing for cosmetics in the UK, this is a loophole which should not be in place. Botox is also painful and expensive, and makes you look odd.
There are far better ways. One is to just accept that as we get older, we get a few laughter lines. The other is to look after yourself (more water over wine, a self-care routine, relax, do yoga, don’t bake in the sun and eat well). All of these will do far more for your skin than anything you buy. But if you want to have some added help, try these.
Old-style facial exercises were a bit dodgy as critics claimed they could make things worse. Although muscles in the face attach to skin, doing them wrongly could cause more harm. Facial yoga does look stupid (so do these exercises when nobody’s looking!) but they work well. Face Yoga is a good book to help you lines around the eyes and lips, along with reducing eyebags and dark circles, and can even help to reduce a double chin. The book is fully illustrated with photos, promising results in a few weeks, if you just take a few minutes a day to practice them.
Face Yoga Method is a website from a Japanese woman who lives in the US. She was almost killed in a car crash which led to her face muscles collapsing, so she decided to learn exercises to fix it. From her biography, she must be in her 50s, but just look at her! She also recommends drinking hot or warm water over cold, and trains face yoga teachers worldwide. Her website includes lots of before/after images from those who have followed her exercises.