The sun will come out, tomorrow….Yoga before the sea and the big blue sky

Yesterday morning dawned rainy and grey.  Around these parts, precipitation is a present, a gift.  The chill in the air was invigorating, and the light reflecting on the wet cobblestones a portend of danger, for they are slippery when wet.
Sophie and Laurence and I warmed up with a white tea before class, then ventured upstairs to el Cielo, which means “Heaven” in Spanish, for yoga class.
There was a chill in the room, so we doubled up the yoga mats, and distributed nice, warm, hot pink wool blankets.   When we reached the floor phase of the practice, I noticed that the chill was starting to bite.  Feeling protective of my students, I hoped and prayed for some warming rays.
As we began to practice dvipada-pitâm (“the two-legged table pose”), the sun burst through!  Suddenly our little greenhouse of a room warmed up!  Joy!  We finished the sequence with Dolphins and headstand prep…energies were moved, smiles dawned upon faces and yet again, yoga worked its magic.
Thanks to everyone who came to class, it is a honour and privilege to be allowed to teach even a little bit of this ancient system.  Thanks to all the yogis and sages who kept this oral tradition alive for us to employ now, in 2018.  Thanks to my teachers, Claude and Carmen, for dedicating your lives to teaching teachers.  Namasté.

Authenticity in teaching yoga: Why it took me so long to teach.

authentically ok
authentically ok

The first time I ever practised yoga was in January, 1999.  That is 19 years ago.  How time flies.  I knew from the very first class that I wanted to teach yoga, that it was my path.  So, why did it take me so long to start teaching?  One word:  Authenticity.
I had for the longest time the feeling of being an imposter.  Imposter syndrome is the persistent feeling that you are a fraud.  In the five types that are listed there, I would say I am a Natural Genius and a Rugged Individualist.  Oh, with a bit of Perfectionist thrown in, for good measure.  It’s a high bar I have set for myself.
In yoga, the stakes are high.  You are not playing with people.  You are doing serious work.  And lest we forget, you can only teach what you know, so the most serious work you are actually doing is on yourself.
It is not easy to start off with the Yamas and Niyamas, the codes of ethics that underpin all serious yoga practice.  Non-harming, purity, self-study, contention…it is a long list, and very hard to adhere to 100% of the time.  Add that to six-days-a-week practice, and an evolving practice at that, not stagnating, bringing new things to the mat.  Phew.
It is easy to fall into the idea that you are never good enough to teach yoga.  Or rather, for me it is.  Evidently, for others it is not so difficult.  There are plenty of people out there who, a year after discovering yogâsana are on a 200-hr course and then teaching a few months later.  This is not a criticism of such people, it is a reflection on my inner process, my evolution.
I could not allow myself to do such a thing.  Maybe it is simple enough to say that my baggage was too heavy, my inner world too murky, my compass skewed.  Who was I to teach anyone how to live happily?
And yet, slowly, progressively, I oriented myself, I shed my baggage, I shone my light.  The interesting thing was discovering that we don’t have to be 100% perfect and clean.  But, we need to love our own flaws, our own pain.  When you learn to love your pain, you become whole and when you are whole you can hold space for your students to learn to love themselves, in their entirety.  When I got that,  I started to teach in earnest.  Now, it is my passion, my absolute passion!
A lot of marketing in the holistic world centres on authenticity.  How can we tell the real from the false.  I dunno, I don’t have a simple answer.  I think it’s intuition, I think it’s a feeling.  All I can say is that I think I am authentically ok now, I think I am.  I hope I am cos goddarn I am not going back to that place where I was before!   So, if you feel like checking out my classes, meeting me to ask about how I teach, having a conversation, you’re already here on the blog.  Take the next step and get in touch.
Love, Rachel

Re-post from The Guardian: Yoga for Lazy People

Here is a cute little article from today’s Guardian:  Yoga for Lazy People.  Have fun and…get on your mat!


Teaching yoga from the heart

Every day I wake up thinking about yoga.  It has been like this for as long as I can remember.  It is my deepest passion, my guiding light, the shining star in my sky.  1313146901-300px
Yoga teachers are bound to one fundamental rule:  you can only teach what you know.  And knowing yoga is about doing yoga.  You cannot teach postures that you cannot do yourself.  You cannot create the discipline necessary to establish a home practice, even if that home practice is as humble as getting on your mat once a week, unless you yourself have a home practice.  And you cannot impart the power of yoga to ease suffering and pain if you do not use yoga yourself to ease  your own suffering.
An example:  I got really sick over Christmas.  And I was alone.  After days of coughing, breathlessness, helplessness, I found myself in a state of terrible anxiety.  I am going to die, I thought.  We are all going to die, I thought.  Death, sadly, has a 100% success rate.  it is the most elemental, primordial fear that we humans have, and it is a rational fear.  Because it is scary to think that our days are numbered, that all that we know will pass, that all the people we love will walk off this mortal coil one day and the worst thing is, we know not when.
womanchildstar-300pxI have a particularly intense relationship with all this because of the cancer rehab work I did.  I watched people I loved, my patients, die year after year.  I avoided the funerals because I had to maintain some sort of professional distance.  In the last year I worked in breast cancer rehab, I had four women lie on my table weeping, and all of them were younger than me.  How can you process that?  How can you deal with the fact that illness is real, that all the yoga and chanting in the world will not heal a tumour, and that even the doctors are helpless in the face of this.  How?  how do you deal with that?
Well, first you freak out, if you’re me.  Yep, it lay on me like a shroud and I carried that mantle for years. I tried, I tried my very best.  But then it got too much and I ran.  I rejected the world of oncology, I didn’t want to know.  And then I got real.  I realised that I possessed the skills to ease this particular suffering, this terrible elemental pain that we all share.  I have yoga.  My mission in life is to teach the yoga I know to ease the suffering of our human condition.  There, mission statement. I don’t know if I ever had one before!
Yoga will not change the fact that we are mortal.  Yoga will not make you live forever.  But yoga can make you still in the face of all that fear, all that sadness, all that fragility.  Yoga can teach you to sit still and say “Yes, okay, it is like this.”  And dear, dear people, that stillness is so necessary to this world.  One day you will be called upon to be still in the face of a storm and if you know how to breathe, to chant a little prayer, to ask the Universe for guidance when you yourself don’t know what to say, when words fail you, when your heart wants to burst, you lie in the hands of your maker, this incomprehensible, beautiful, contradictory, frustrating world that we live in and you say “I don’t know, please help me”, then you have the power of yoga.
And if all this is getting heavy, but you’ve stuck with me until now, thanks for listening.  And let me tell you this – yoga is about joy.  Yoga is about the joy you find when you understand and accept the reality that is ours, and you say – HEY !  But I am ALIVE!  And I have love inside me!  I have so much love to give and there is always somewhere to put my love!  And then you smile, and you laugh and you are present and available and, and, and….you feel HAPPY!  So dear readers, this is what I did when I was sick.  I sat and I chanted and breathed until I remembered that this life is the one I have, and it is marvellous, beautiful, miraculous, just as your life is marvellous, beautiful and miraculous.  
Now get out there and have a great Friday!  Live, love, laugh.  I will be teaching in less than an hour, and I will probably hug all my students afterwards.  Cos I am like that.

Yoga at GOA Altea, with Rachel – video clip

Hey ladies and gentlemen,
A few months ago, the team down at GOA made a fab little video about the yoga and wellness programs that we run.  I, of course, am the yoga teacher.  That’s me on your right, with the braid.  So, click the link, watch the video and dream of quiet mornings in front of the sea, doing hatha yoga, breathing in the salty air, luxuriating in the silence and the sound of the waves.

Alteayoga @ GOA Altea
Alteayoga @ GOA Altea

Get on your mat! Yoga to ease the symptoms of menopause

I came across this article about the benefits of yoga for peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women.  I just had to share!
The study was done by researchers in Germany,  and examined groups of women in the USA, India, Brazil, China, South Korea and Germany.  What is really interesting about the breadth of the study groups is that the women would have had vastly different lifestyle and diet habits.  So, the observed positive effect must come from something outside of existing diet and lifestyle.  In this case, the researchers conclude that yoga helps specifically with night sweats and hot flashes.
I worked for twelve years in rehabilitation of women who have had breast cancer.  As you may know, many breast cancers are sensitive to oestrogen, so one of the therapeutic strategies is to provoke a chemical menopause.  This may sound harsh, and it is, for the ladies.  Later, the woman may take a hormone disruptor (aromatase inhibitor or similar) like Tamoxifen for a period of five to ten years.  So, I have seen my share of ladies going through the menopause, believe me. The hot flashes and night sweats are very disruptive.
I myself have been crossing this particular juncture in the past two years and the night sweats thing comes and goes.  But, as a practising yogi, I will say that my transition has been smooth, and I am not overly bothered by the symptoms.  If anything, I feel lighter in my body and more stable in my mind.  I did not expect to have a relatively early menopause (I am only 45), but I did expect that my symptoms should be bearable.  And in fact, yes, they are.
It is worth noting that the positive effect of yoga might also lie in the way the women perceive the symptoms.  It is now known that the intensity of pain or physical discomfort is partly an issue of perception.  “A study from the University of Colorado at Boulder released on Jan. 12, 2015, reports that the ability to use your thoughts to modulate perceptions of pain utilizes a completely separate brain pathway than the pathway used to send the physical pain signal to your brain. This discovery is a breakthrough”
So, let’s just sum up, shall we?  Yoga seems to be effective at easing symptoms of menopause, even adjusting for diet and lifestyle difference.  Yoga is a safe and practical solution.  Viniyoga, which adapts the practice to the individual, not the individual to the practice, is a style that can help women who might have co-pathologies like osteoporosis/osteopenia, overweight/obesity, arthritis, and so on.
Have I convinced you yet?  Don’t worry, I will keep trying if not.  Why?  Because I care about your health, even if I don’t know you (yet).
Love, Rachel

On yoga and loneliness (the scourge of our times)

In this morning’s post, I mentioned one of the benefits of yoga is the relief of loneliness.  This is not often mentioned when people talk about yoga.  Mostly, yoga is said to relieve back pain, insomnia, sluggish digestion and various other physical ailments.  Those of us who practice yoga with any degree of seriousness know that the psychological and emotional benefits of a sustained yoga practice outweigh the physical gains.
You see, as this article points out, loneliness can be as dangerous to a person’s health as bad habits like late nights and too many fags.    And yoga, when done in a group setting, ie:  a class, helps relieve loneliness.

two hands

Loneliness is the the illusion of separateness, of separation, and is a trick of the ego.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that the ego sets out to convince us that we are disconnected from one another.  In the simplest sense, our ego sets us apart from other by comparing and judging.  “I am more intelligent/worldly/attractive… than so-and-so.”  Or, we think that others are ignorant, “so-and-so has no common sense, can’t they see that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, these people are all sheep”.   Those sorts of thoughts are so incredibly common that we often don’t even realise that we are having them.  But, their effect is devastating.  If left too long, we can end up truly isolated.  I have lost count of the number of students who at some point in their 50’s realised that their old friends have fallen away and new friends are increasingly hard to find.  Uh-oh and a big ouch if that happens to you.
What to do?  Tame the ego is the obvious thing.  It is not easily done, but the cool thing about yoga is that it sets out a tried and tested path for taming the ego.  The first step is defining the ego, knowing it is there but that the ego is not YOU.  Then, once you know what to watch out for, you start to watch its tricks.  You get used to that stupid, petty little judgemental voice steering you wrong and, eventually, you stop listening to it.  Then, in the stillness, you get more and more used to listening to the quiet-voiced corrections of the heart.
Yep, sounds a bit esoteric, I know.  But it goes something like this:  the ego says “look at the stuck-up prick holding court at the bar again.  My goodness, what a loser.  And all those people listening to him…I have nothing in common with these idiots.”  But, when you know that it is the nasty little voice of the ego slamming around in your head, you just say “shut up”.  And, in the silence you hear another voice saying “look at that fragile person in need of attention.  And all those fairweather friends listening in for want of anything better to do, like real communication, or even blessed silence.   Their suffering is my suffering.  Let all creatures live happily.”  That, my friends, is the heart talking.
Yoga teaches you to turn everyday situations around so that we can see the beauty, fragility, and love that is all around, all the time.  THAT is what yoga does.  And the group class is fun-da-mental for this process.  In the group class, we fall out of postures.  We suck at the forward bends.  We fart (well, not me personally, but you get it, right?).  In the group class our cracked heels are exposed and sometimes we turn up late.  And sometimes we cry.  And sometimes we laugh, and sometimes we spontaneously hug.  All this happens in yoga because we still the fluctuations of the mind (Yoga citta vritti nirodhah) and insodoing discover that we are all a lot more alike than we originally thought.  Out the door with the illusion of separateness, all hail connection.
So, come on and do some yoga with me, with us.  With anyone, because honestly, although I try to earn a living at this, if you take away from this post the desire to try yoga and you go with another teacher, or a YouTube video (but with a friend, natch!) then I am totally cool with that.  You can let me know if I have inspired you, even a little bit, by leaving a comment.  Because you know what?  Even I am prone to the lonelies, even I need to feel the love.  There, I said it.
I shared a quote from Mike Lousada the other day, and it resonates here too:
“Love is the deep truth of being. Anything else is an ego story designed to keep us feeling separate and alone.  Surrender to that deeper field of Love and Life will open to you”

New Year, new you

Good morning dear yogis, or yogis-to-be!

prismatic lotus flower
lotus flower

Wouldn’t you like to make 2018 the year that you take up yoga?  Yoga is so ubiquitous now, it seems almost silly not to at least try?
But why should yoga be everywhere, and now?  Because it complements any other form of physical education or sport, but can also stand alone.  Yoga can be used by anyone engaged in demanding sport like football, running , CrossFit, to help rehabilitate muscle and connective tissue, improve breathing technique and oxygenation, and generally settle you down after a hard workout.
Yoga is completely adaptable for all ages and fitness levels.  Especially Viniyoga, the style of yoga that I teach.  The central tenet of this style is that the yoga adapts to the person, not the person to the yoga.  This means that viniyoga sequences are modifiable, which is not the case in many yoga styles.  As we know, the European population is ageing, and ageing brings with it certain changes such as connective tissue stiffness in post-menopausal women, overweight and obesity, problems with bone density, heart disease, sleep problems and a host of other concerns.  While yoga is not a magic pill, it certainly helps practitioners to feel better in their bodies, to sleep better, to accept more gracefully the changes associated with ageing, and to overcome loneliness.
Yes, what I say about loneliness is very important.  Yoga is fundamentally a solitary practice, a journey within.  But, in the West, the social aspect of yoga, the group work, is tremendously important.  If you join a yoga class, you will find like-minded people, and that sense of separation might be temporarily eased.  Loneliness is a big problem in Europe.  Yoga, quite apart from all the other physical benefits, can help overcome this pervasive sense of aloneness.
So, please come along to class and see what it’s all about.  You will be welcomed with open arms and a big smile.
Peace, namasté, Rachel

Class Schedule – Horarios de clases

Hello beautiful people!  here is a quick resumé of the classes that I am offering as of January, 2018:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday mornings at 9:30AM 
  • Martes, Miércoles, Jueves, Viernes por la mañana a las 9:30AM:

GOA Altea, Carretera del Albir, 17, Altea (03590).

  • Tuesday and Friday afternoons at 4:00PM
  • Martes y Viernes por la tarde a las 4:00PM

Alfaz Paradise, Calle Badia, 50, el Albir, (03581).  

Bhastrika, or bellows yogic breathing for healing from a cold

Even yogis get sick.  Yep, you read it here:  the end of the year is upon us and with it, the cold and dark months of the northern winter.  Now, admittedly here in Altea, the winters are not as rough as those of my native Canada.  But, the rhythm of life is just as hectic, if not more given the general disorganisation of the Iberian culture.  So, I have just spent a week on the sofa, sick as sick thing.  I thought I would share with you a pranayama technique called Bhastrika or bellows breathing.  It is a useful technique for clearing excess cold and damp from the body by nourishing the fire element.  So, watch the video and give it a try.  Any questions or doubts, leave a comment and I will get back to you.