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

New post on alteayoga.es

Hey lovelies.  I am trying to move over to alteayoga.es.  So, any new posts will go there first.  Here is a link to something I wrote this morning.  Toodle-loo.

The mysterious path of the yogi.

The funny thing about yoga is that almost everyone confuses it with exercise. And while it has been said many times before by scholars much abler than I, yoga does incorporate body postures and breathing, it is really not a form of exercise.

yoga tree
yoga, the tree of life

Most yoga teachers know this. If they don’t, with all due respect, perhaps they’re a bit green. Because if you practice with assiduity – and believe me, a yoga teacher who does not practice daily is not a yoga teacher – the other stuff will come. And when the other stuff comes, thus comes the realisation that the postures were only a means to an end. The âsana is the vehicle, the texts are the roadmap, the teacher is the guide, but the destination is wholly unknown.
Yep, no one know where this is taking you. That is the great mystery, and it’s why we practice. We don’t know the lay of the land, we don’t know where this is taking us, and so we get a few surprises (some nice, some not so nice) along the way and sometimes end up not at all where we expected.
Yoga is an intensely personal journey. No one’s experience of yoga will be just like that of another. True, there are road markers along the way and certain steps that are almost universal. but the exact physical, mental and spiritual changes that each yoga practitioner effects are intensly personal.
Why? Because each person arrives at yoga with their own samskara-s, the impressions that make up the character, the ego. So even if Judith and Sarah start the class on the same day, with the same teacher, and never miss a single practice, Judith starts at A but Sarah might well start at K. And perhaps Judith is A on the physical body, but F on the emotional body and a straight up Z on the spiritual front. Meanwhile, Sarah is G, J and L. I mean, who knows? There is no firm measuring stick for any of this, so we don’t even know where we are starting. Maybe we think we’ve gotten quite far with the mental stuff, only to find out that the black dog was lurking just behind us all along.
For this reason, one of my favourite yoga refrains is “Don’t judge a person for where he is on the road. Judge a person for how far he has traveled to get there.”
Get on your mat and practice! Do whatever you can, whenever you can, and open yourself to the mystery of your own life, that will unfold before you. Sweat your prayers, people, and all is coming.
The guru is within you.

NY Time Opinion: Yoga teachers need a code of ethics

I agree completely with the author of this piece.  As a teacher of Viniyoga, I am ashamed that there has also been a scandal in our lineage, although not mine directly.  I won’t publish details here, but it is easy enough to dig up.  Notably, the person involved is back teaching, without apparently having to atone for his indiscretions. For me, his alleged bad behaviour does not detract from the essence of the teachings of his father, TKV Desikachar and grandfather, T. Krishnamacharya.  However, I do believe that the organization that promotes the teachings of Viniyoga ought to be strong enough to discipline even the direct descendent of its founder.   Anyway, here is the link.

Prize Draw: Colour the yogis and come to class! Colorea los yoguis y vente a clase!

Alteayoga colouring page
Colour Me Beautiful!

Here is the deal: print and colour in the advert, (or pop on over to GOA and pick one up), then bring it to yoga class during the month of June, 2017. At the end of the month, I will do a draw.  Good Luck!

  • First Prize: A one-hour massage!
  • Second Prize: A one-hour private yoga class!
  • Third prize: A one-hour group yoga class!

Así va la oferta:  imprima y colorea el anuncio (ó bien, pásate por GOA y recoge uno), y tráela a clase durante el mes de junio, 2017.  Al final del mes, sortearé una rifa.  Suerte! Los premios son:

  • Primero:  Una masaje de una hora!
  • Segundo: Una clase de yoga privada, de una hora!
  • Tercero:  Una clase grupal de yoga, de una hora!

Daily Yoga Classes at GOA, Altea

It’s shaping up to be a busy summer.  Nothing like doing yoga every day.  Since it’s going so well for me over at GOA Altea, Lau and I have decided to collaborate on a a new project:  yoga campus 2017!  Basically, it is a daily yoga class and healthy breakfast deal.

Yoga bliss
Yoga Bliss

We understand that the summertime is for chilling.  But, we also know that there are people out there who know that relaxing is not only about wine and lying in.  Strange is it may sound, we believe that there are people out there who like to awaken early, with a clear head, and care for themselves with exercise, breathing and positive thinking.  How do I know that such people exist?  Because I am one of them!
I know a lot of people who rent houses for holidaymakers in summertime.  Very often, these are three and four-bedroom houses, and the groups that share them are ten, maybe twelve people, children included.  Now, being in a large group for any length of time is tiring.  I have seen time and again the sunburnt, sleepy faces of mums and dads on holiday.  I know that some of those people will relish, absolutely delight in the idea of a quiet hour for themselves in the morning, to stretch and breathe and reconnect with their inner essence. Believe me, yoga changes the prism through which one views the world.  So, set your alarm for 8:30, get on over to GOA by 9:00 any morning in July and August 2017 and come practice yoga.  Don’t bother eating first, yoga is best practised on an empty stomach anyway. Breakfast is served afterwards, with your VIP card, attractive pricing and lots of care and love.
Need more info?  Comment below, like Alteayoga on Facebook, or just mail me on alteayoga – at – gmail – dot – com.
Namaste and a great big Om.

Yoga and the Endocrine System – Peace in the poses

A mandala
A mandala in shades of yellow

The practice of Hatha Yoga uses postures, breath and mental focus to bring about peace.  By peace, we refer to the physical peace derived from flexible muscle and joints, free of pain, good quality sleep, proper oxygenation brought about by correct breathing and mental restfulness, a state of alert calm, wakeful quiet.
There are scientific studies being done on the effects of yoga on the endocrine system – the hormones.  This is very promising work.   For a long time, people have tried to tie yoga nadis to the nervous system, and it is certain that some parallels can be drawn between nerve plexi and the chakras.  But this will never give the whole picture of just why a sustained hatha yoga practice, over years, brings about such overall good health and humour.

The Endocrine System

The endocrine system is composed of glands, organs and the substances they produce, known as hormones.   Hormones are secreted or excreted in miniscule quantities, but they have far-reaching effects.  Any woman who has ever taken hormonal birth control or even had a period knows this.

HPA Axis

Of great interest to those working with breast cancer is the so-called HPA axis, or Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenal axis.  This is basically a cascade within the endocrine system in which one gland signals another.  The HPA helps control our reactions to stress, among other things.  The hypothalamus and the pituitary glands are nestled beside each other, and the link between the nervous system and the endocrine system is right here.  Basically, the hypothalamus secretes hormones that cause the pituitary to secrete hormones.  The hypothalamus receives information from the brain stem, that is, information from our body.  The anterior pituitary gland is where the hormones are secreted, and has been found to be activated by GABA.   Pituitary hormones then signal the adrenal glands, where cortisol is produced.

HPG Axis

There is yet another hormone axis called the HPG axis, or Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Gonad axis.  This axis signals and controls the sex organs.  The majority of breast cancer patients are menopausal or peri-menopausal at diagnosis, and those who are still menstruating have their periods suppressed in a bid to reduce oestrogen production.  The crux of the matter is the the Hypothalamus signals the Pituitary and this released two hormones, LH and FSH.  FSH does the final conversion of androgen to oestrogen, but LH helps produce the androgen, which coverts to oestrogen.  This process uses an enzyme called aromatase, and you may have heard of aromatase inhibitors, a class of drugs used in breast cancer patients with hormone-sensitive tumours.


One of the hormones that is of interest to yoga practitioners is cortisol.  Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and secreted into the blood.  Almost all cells of the body have cortisol receptors (these are like antenna or tunnels on the cell walls and they all the cells to transport the cortisol into the cell, where it can exert its effect.)  So, if you have high cortisol levels, you may see a wide range of effects in the body, including:

What is cortisol?  In it’s normal function, cortisol helps us meet life’s challenges by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen and counteracting inflammation. For a short time, that’s okay. But at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually tears your body down.  Cortisol is one essential we can’t live without.  But too much of a good thing is not healthy.
Sustained high cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, co-opt biochemicals needed to make other vital hormones, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, interfere with healthy endocrine function; and weaken your immune system.
Adrenal fatigue may be a factor in many related conditions, including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, premature menopause and others. It may also produce a host of other unpleasant symptoms, from acne to hair loss.

Here is a summary of the scientific studies substantiating the fact that the practice of Hatha Yoga reduces blood cortisol levels.


Another hormone of interest to yoga practitioners is GABA (Gamma-amino butyric acid). Low GABA levels in the brain are linked to anxiety and depression.  Anyone who has had cancer treatment knows that depression is rarely far away.  In my opinion, it is a very natural reaction to the physical trauma of treatment and the emotional trauma of facing your own mortality.  But depression cannot be allowed to continue unchecked, and the practice of Hatha Yoga helps regulate mood.  For example:

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.
Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, or CES-D).
At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.


I really could write all day, but my daughter will get mad at me, and Sunday is Sunday.  I will leave you to think about this:
Hatha yoga reduces blood cortisol, stimulates the vagus nerve and just darn well calms us down.  The brain stem recognises our altered physical state and sends this information to the Hypothalamus.  The Hypothalamus says to the Pituitary “all is good, settle down”.  The HPG and HPA axes find homeostasis and we establish a feedback loop of calm and settledness.  To any scientists reading this, I know it sounds facile.  But I think that your research – and our practice- will lead us to this conclusion.
In the meantime, keep practising.  We find peace in the poses.  Om.

Read on…

For your reading pleasure, a few curated links to articles discussing Yoga and the endocrine system.