yoga for relaxation and letting go - twist

Yoga, relaxation and letting go

Last night I taught the last online “yoga for women” class of 2020 and the theme I chose was letting go. It seemed appropriate as we are coming to the end of the year and what a year it has been. I feel like the whole world is emotionally charged right now.. we have all been cooped up indoors, barely able to see friends and family for nearly 10 months now. I know I’m feeling a complicated mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, confusion most days and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. Of course there are good moments too and we are making the best of things, and I am so grateful that my loved ones haven’t been affected by the virus but still, these are testing times!

But back to the theme of letting go.. the end of the year is a great time to reflect on our lives and our inner world. How are we feeling? Are we living a life we love? Are we on track to reach the goals we set for ourselves? What patterns are we ready to break? The new year is a perfect time for a clean start, for us to let go of any habits which are no longer serving us, to let go of any heavy emotional baggage we have been carrying and to let go of any unhelpful self-judgement or criticism which is holding us back. Like that feeling of your body warming up and relaxing after you have been outside in the cold, tense and shivering to keep warm, letting go allows you to release tension from your body and mind and find comfort and relaxation. Sometimes we don’t even realise how some things are affecting us until they are gone.

Some things that I am ready to let go of are:

  • Comparing myself to others. This is a habit that is hard to break! I used to compare the way I look to others a lot and feel less than. Now it’s more about how my business is growing and feeling that I am “behind” somehow
  • Excessive screen time. I don’t use my phone too much but I’ve definitely noticed myself spending more time on my computer during the lockdown and I know it makes me feel tired and dazed. I want to at least have a couple of hours totally screen free in the mornings and evening
  • Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs about my physical fitness. I recently started to exercise again after being recovered from HA nearly 4 years and I am feeling a bit disheartened about my loss of fitness. I know I am improving and it takes time but it’s easy to fall into the trap of criticising myself

Yoga and letting go

So how can yoga help us to let go? Yoga encourages us to be present with ourselves and bring our awareness to what is happening in our body and mind. We are encouraged to notice any areas of tightness or tension and to use our deep, conscious breathing to let it go and relax, creating a sense of softness. Often when we arrive on our yoga mat and check in with ourselves, we find we are holding tension in our neck and shoulders, our jaw and face or our hips which we weren’t even aware of. As we move through yoga asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) we can learn how to let these things go and over time this ease within the body and mind becomes our natural state.

A yoga practice for relaxation and letting go looks like moving slowly, finding ease in the poses and allowing your body to open up in it’s own time rather than fighting against it, trying to force yourself into painful positions. To help with letting go, practice longer holds, anywhere from 1-5 minutes, and really stay present and focused on the sensations within the poses and the steady rhythm of your breath. You can practice scanning your body for any resistance to the pose, maybe a feeling of clenching or gripping in your muscles and try to surrender into the posture, melting deeper with each exhale. If this feels difficult you can even try purposely clenching your muscles on an inhale and releasing everything on the exhale.

I find that seated or lying poses help the most with letting go and relaxation, any pose where you are close to the ground and can really feel supported by the mat beneath you. Poses like extended child’s pose, sleeping pigeon pose, supine twist and butterfly pose are all great for finding peace and relaxation by opening up the shoulders, lower back and hips. For an even more relaxing practice, you can use props to support your body in postures, especially forward folds and reclining back bends (like in my yoga sequence for your period). Supporting your body with yoga blocks, bolsters or cushions can help you to find the comfort that allows deep relaxation and true letting go.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this quick post on yoga for relaxation and letting go. Let me know in the comments if you have a favourite pose or sequence to help you relax and let go.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more on yoga and holistic health.
  • If you are interested in joining my yoga class or you are looking for a nutritionist and health coach, contact me and we can work together to help you achieve your health goals!

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heart opening yoga - wild thing

Yoga and body image / Yoga for women

I’m really enjoying teaching my online Yoga for Women classes on Sunday evenings, it’s a really cosy way to end the weekend and to connect with other women whilst we are in lockdown here in Greece. If you’re interested in joining the class contact me and I will send you the joining details. This week the class theme was about how yoga can help to develop a healthy body image. Especially nowadays with social media, so many of us have a distorted view of our bodies and waste our precious energy critisising ourselves for the way we look. We hold ourselves to such high standards, often comparing ourselves to images we see in the media which have been carefully crafted and edited to the point where even the person in the photo doesn’t look like that in real life (if you don’t believe me try following Beauty.False on Instagram!).

In my experience, yoga can be an amazing tool in our self-care kit on our journey to overcoming body shame and developing a healthier relationship with the way that we look. Yoga is one of the things that helped me the most in recovering from disordered eating and developing self-acceptance and a more positive body image. However there are also some pitfalls along the yoga path that can make us feel worse about ourselves. In this article I want to share 5 ways yoga can help to improve your body image and 5 body image traps to avoid.

How can yoga help with body image?

  1. Yoga teaches us to be still and to turn our attention inwards. Even if it is only for the short time of the practice, we can shut out the outside world and let our true inner voice become louder. This means tuning out the external voices of societies’ beauty standards, other peoples opinions of us and our own interpretation of how we should be and instead letting the inner knowing that we are fine just as we are come through.

  2. Yoga is a great way to get your body moving and improve your strength and flexibility. Heart opening postures such as back bends and cleansing twists can really help to get energy moving through your body making you feel more alive and good in your body. Standing postures help to improve your posture so you can stand tall and confident and feel good about yourself as you move through your day.

  3. Unlike other types of exercise, yoga is not focused on weight loss or burning calories but on uniting movement and breath to create a more calm, positive mindset and a strong, agile body. During my eating disorder recovery, switching out my gym and running sessions for walking and yoga did wonders to change my relationship to exercise. I started to move my body in a way that felt good, pay attention to how I felt and rest when I felt tired instead of pushing through in an attempt to achieve “results”.

  4. Practice of yoga asana (postures) gets us very acquainted with our bodies in all sorts of weird positions! We are forced to look at our belly rolls in forward folds, our thighs in downward dog, our double chin in shoulder stand.. any part that we might feel shame about we are going to come up close and personal with through yoga. And that’s a good thing! Yoga helps us to become used to seeing our bodies and to normalise the things we might not like and cultivate acceptance over time.

  5. Yoga is a personal journey. Yoga encourages not to compare our progress to others but to arrive on the mat each practice ready to try again and observe what our body can do on that day. We realise over time that nothing is constant and progress is not linear. Our bodies change from day to day depending on what is going on in our lives, how much stress we feel, how much sleep we got and also the with the seasons. We learn to accept these fluctuations and even come to love watching things unfold.

5 body image traps in yoga

  1. Beating ourselves up or negative self-talk. As I said, yoga helps us to turn inwards and let our inner voice become louder. But what happens when your mind is ruled by your inner critic? Sometimes we can let this critical voice seep into our practice and tell us we are not good enough, we are weak or our bodies aren’t flexible enough instead of just accepting what is and feeling grateful for the progress we are making. If you catch yourself spiraling down into self-criticism, pause for a moment to ask yourself why things should be different.

  2. Comparison with others. Although yoga encourage us to focus on our own practice, it can be tempting to compare our bodies or progress in yoga with others around us. This is the worst possible thing we can do when we are trying to develop a healthy body image, especially if those others are people we see online and not in real life. I have definitely fallen into this trap, comparing myself to other yoga teachers online and feeling shame for not being as flexible or as beautiful as them, as if this made me any less of a teacher. Simply not true! A home practice can be a great way to explore yoga without the temptation to compare with others around you. There are plenty of diverse teachers offering free online classes that you can try out.

  3. The perfectionist mind-set. If we have a tendency towards perfectionism we can also bring this attitude into our practice having very high expectations of our selves and holding ourselves to extreme standards. Whether that is how our bodies look or being able to achieve the perfect yoga pose, perfectionism harms us more than helping us. It can cause us to injure ourselves because we are being driven by an external ideal rather than focusing on what’s going on inside. I encourage you to let go of the idea of creating a shape with your body and instead focus on lines of energy and sensations within your body.

  4. Feeling shame about our bodies. Again this is the other side of the coin of becoming aware of our bodies, we can also become more aware of the things we don’t like about our bodies. If we are not careful we can bring our body shame onto the mat and instead of accepting what we see we can magnify the things we don’t like and start to pick ourselves apart. If you catch yourself doing this during your practice, take a big deep breath in and as you exhale imagine you are breathing out the toxic belief that is making you feel something about your body is wrong.

  5. Pushing ourselves too hard. There are many different types of yoga, from relaxing yin and restorative practices to more intense ashtanga and vinyasa practice. For anyone with a history of excessive exercise or body image worries, it can be tempting to use the more active, physically challenging practices as a way to continue to try to lose weight or change your body. If you fall into this trap, work on expanding your mind by bringing more pranayama and meditation into your practice as well as challenging your body through asana practice. Set the intention of awareness with every practice and listen to your energy levels and emotions

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on yoga and body image, please share with anyone else who this could help!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more on yoga and holistic health. My next post will be a short yoga sequence you can practice at home to help boost your confidence and improve your body image.
  • If you are interested in joining my yoga class or you are looking for a nutritionist and health coach, contact me and we can work together to help you achieve your health goals!

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Yoga for during your period / Yoga for period cramps

Should you practice yoga during your period? Yes! Practicing yoga can be very supportive for women during menstruation. Yoga can help to relax the body and mind, reducing tension which can cause symptoms such as intense cramps, lower back pain and headaches during your period. However, I recommend taking a break from exercise for a few days during your period and this includes any intense yoga practice. If you normally practice a more active form of yoga such as vinyasa flow or ashtanga, I suggest taking a break for a few days. Instead, choose a more gentle, restorative yoga practice during your period, at least during your first couple of bleeding days or until your flow is less heavy. A yoga sequence for period cramps, such as the one in this article is a much better way to support your body during this time to relieve period cramps and help you to feel better.

Yoga poses to avoid during your period

As well as more intense yoga flows, you should also avoid strong standing poses, inversions and backbends during your period if you really want to support your body and it’s natural rhythms. These poses can be strenuous on the body and could leave you feeling more fatigued during this natural time of rest and rejuvenation. Standing poses and backbends require a lot of core activation and tension in the abdomen which can increase period cramps and pelvic pain during your period. Inversions such as headstands, shoulder stand and handstands can also interfere with the downward flow or apana energy associated with elimination of period blood so it’s better to avoid these poses for a few days and practice the yoga sequence for period cramps below instead if you want to feel your best during your period and throughout the rest of your menstrual cycle.

Yoga poses for period pain

There are certain yoga poses which help to relieve pain in the pelvis and lower back during your period. Yoga poses for period pain include forward bends, hip openers and supported reclining postures which all help to relax and open up the muscles which tend to hold tension causing painful period cramps and back ache during your period. The yoga for period cramps sequence below includes a combination of supported standing and seated forward folds, hip openers and reclined back bends which will help to relieve period cramps and lower back pain as well as encouraging your nervous system to relax and let go so you can feel a sense of calm and wellbeing during your period. Menstruation is a natural time to reflect and turn inwards and yoga can really help to experience this effect.

Practicing the restorative period yoga poses below regularly during menstruation can help to reduce pain and discomfort during menstruation and help you on your way to pain-free periods in future cycles. If you have problems such as irregular menstrual cycles or heavy menstrual blood flow, these period yoga poses can also help to regulate your menstrual cycle over time by toning the muscles within your pelvic bowl and improving blood flow to your reproductive organs.

What you will need:

  • Yoga mat, towel or blanket
  • Bolster or dense cushion (see here for how to make a DIY bolster out of rolled up towels)
  • Folded blanket or towel (optional)
  • Yoga blocks (optional)
  • A quiet space to practice where you won’t be disturbed

Explore the period yoga pose descriptions and photos below , then practice this yoga sequence for period cramps in your own time. You can hold each posture for between 1 and 5 minutes, depending on how much time you have for your yoga practice. To improve flexibility, longer holds are better as you can really relax into the poses and allow your deep muscles to open up in their own time. The final reclining pose I suggest taking a bit longer, maybe 5 or 10 minutes to rest and relax with your eyes closed.

Standing forward fold (Uttasana)

Standing forward folds help to relieve tension in the lower back, reduce period cramps and calm the nervous system. During your period, practice forward folds with the knees bent deeply so you can rest your chest on your knees or support yourself with your hands on the ground or head on a block for a more restorative posture. Focus on a long straight lower back as much as possible to avoid straining and really feel the stretching along the back of your legs and a release in your neck and upper spine.

Hip opening with butterfly pose (Baddha Konasana)

Tight hips can create tension in the abdomen leading to painful period cramps and back ache. Baddha konasana pose is one of my favourites to release the inner thighs and outer hip muscles. This is where you bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to open, creating a diamond shape between your legs. Practice with your hips raised by sitting on a folded blanket and rest your upper body on a bolster or dense cushion for a full body relaxation. Yogi squat is another great pose for increasing hip flexibility! Sit on a block or two in this pose if you have knee issues or you can’t quite access the full squat yet, don’t be afraid to lift the heels off the ground.

Seated wide angle pose (Upavistha Konasana)

Another great yoga pose for period pain is seated wide angle pose or seated wide leg forward fold. This pose opens and relaxes the pelvic floor muscles, supports a healthy menstrual flow and helps to relieve period cramps. To practice this pose, open your legs in a straddle position, as wide as comfortable to stretch the inner thigh muscles gently. Again, during your period I recommend using a bolster or cushion for support and focusing on relaxing into the pose rather than trying to force a deeper stretch.

Adding a side bend and forward fold over each leg helps to lengthen and release tension in the lower back during your period. Focus on keeping both hips grounded on the mat and feel the stretch all the way from your hip, through your side body to the tips of your fingers in one long line of energy. Again, use the cushion or bolster for support, taking the weight of your upper body so that you can relax and let go.

Supine bound angle pose (Supta baddha konasana)

My favourite restorative yoga pose for period cramps or painful periods in general is supine bound angle pose. Practice this pose leaning back on a bolster for the ultimate relaxation experience! This gentle chest opener replaces back bends and acts as a counter pose to all of the forward folds in this sequence. The legs are in the same diamond shape as in the seated version of the pose above. The bolster should be touching your sacrum so that your spine is fully supported. Play around with different heights of your bolster to find the most comfortable spot where you can relax for 5 to 10 minutes at the end of your practice.

You can experiment with different arm variations to find what feels good, either arms outstretched at shoulder height or resting on your lower belly. You can even try out variations of yoni mudra in this position (as demonstrated by Ancient Yoga in the video below) as a gesture of connection with your womb and creative centre.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoy practicing this sequence of yoga for period cramps. Let me know if you give it a go and how you feel afterwards. Please like this post and follow my blog if you want more yoga sequences for support throughout your menstrual cycle. You can find a follow along version of this sequence on my Youtube channel Moon Life Yoga.

Other posts you might like

Sources

The Women’s Yoga Book (2011) by Bobby Clennell
Yoni Shatki (2014) by Uma Dinsmore Tuli
My BWY teacher training instructor the lovely Emma Lloyd

Inversions and the menstrual cycle

Today I am on day 9 of my menstrual cycle. I finished bleeding on day 5 so I am now into the follicular phase or “inner spring” of my cycle. For the last few days my yoga practice has included lots of inversions which is an amazing way to rebalance the body after your period.

What exactly are inversions? Inversions are any yoga pose where your hips are lifted higher than your head. This includes bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), downward facing dog (Ardo Mukha Svanasana) and more advanced asana such as plough (halasana), headstand (Sirsasana) and shoulderstand (Savangasana). There are also supported versions of these poses using yoga blocks, bolsters or a wall to make the postures more accessible for beginners or for days when you just need that extra bit of support.

Why are inversions beneficial for the body? Inverting the body boosts blood flow to the head, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients into the brain. This promotes optimal function of the thyroid, parathyroid, pineal and pituitary glands and helps to balance and strengthen the entire hormonal system. Inversions also counter-act the effects of gravity on the body which can have anti-aging effects and prevent varicose veins forming in the legs by improving flow of blood and lymph. They improve circulation throughout the body, relieving fatigue and improving digestion and elimination. When practiced with presence and focus, inversions can super charge the brain, eliminating fatigue and nervous exhaustion and bringing a sense of stillness and peace. Including inversions as part of an evening yoga practice helps to calm the mind, reducing stress and promote restful sleep.

What are the pre-cautions for inversions?

  • You shouldn’t practice inversions during menstruation (aka the bleeding days of your cycle). This is because it disrupts the natural downwards flow of energy or “apana” in the pelvis and lower abdomen which promotes elimination of blood from the body. Practicing inversions during your period can cause backflow of blood into the uterus which can increase the risk of endometriosis. This is questioned by modern science but in my opinion it is safer to go with the natural flow of your body and not take the risk.
  • Do not practice inversions such as headstand or shoulderstand if you have neck injuries or eye/sinus issues such as a detached retina or ear infection as you are putting excess strain on these areas. You should always listen to your body and if you want to include inversions in your practice you can choose alternatives such as downward facing dog, bridge pose or legs up the wall (I always recommend this one for any severe condition) which still bring most of the benefits of the more advanced postures.
  • I do not recommend inversions if you have a headache, nausea or diarrhoea. These poses can help to balance the body and act as a preventative but if you are actively suffering from any of these issues you should wait until you feel better before practicing any strenuous yoga and particularly inverted poses.
  • Finally, you should always make sure you warm up the body properly and practice preparation poses to allow the body to open up before moving into more advanced postures. Always listen to your body, be kind and work within your limits, challenging your body to improve over time but without forcing and risking injury.

When is the best time in the cycle to practice inversions? Inversions can be practiced any time during the menstrual cycle except during your period. For maximum benefits, your yoga practice in the few days after you finish bleeding should be focused on inverted postures. This will stabilise and rebalance your bodily systems and help the nervous system recover from menstruation. It will boost circulation around your reproductive organs, support relaxation of your womb after it has been working hard, contracting to release blood during your period. Inverting the body during this time will also stimulate the pituitary gland which controls the release of FSH (the hormone responsible for maturing eggs in your ovaries) and after several consecutive cycles can help to regularise your cycle and support fertility. You can then include inversions as part of a balanced yoga practice throughout the month to improve strength and flexibility in the body and mind.

Example sequence including inversions (for intermediate students)

Opening sequence: Warming up and awakening the body

  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)
  • Cat cow tilts (explore for 1 minute)
  • Downward facing dog (30-60 seconds)
  • Standing forward fold (1-2 minutes)

Main sequence: Supporting menstrual rhythm

  • Supported headstand using wall (1-5 minutes)
  • Supported headstand – Wide legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Supported headstand – Butterfly legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)

Finishing sequence: Recover and calm the mind

  • Bridge pose with arm variations (1-2 minutes)
  • Plough pose (1-3 minutes)
  • Supported shoulderstand (1-3 minutes)
  • Legs up the wall and wide leg variation (5 minutes)
  • Reclining butterfly pose (1-5 minutes)

In the video below I summarise the information on inversions and the menstrual cycle and demonstrate the sequence above. Let me know if you try out any of these postures or if you are already including inversions in your yoga practice and noticing the benefits. If you are interested in 1-2-1 or group yoga sessions (currently online only) you can send me a message through the “Work with Me” tab at the top of this page ♥️

References
The Women’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell (2011)
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffmann (1996)
Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes by Mark Stephens (2012)

Yoga and the menstrual cycle / Yoga for women

Today I decided to post my first video on Youtube – eek! I really wanted to share how yoga can benefit women and how we can modify our practice to align with our hormonal cycles. I’m not very confident with speaking in front of a camera but I’m sure that will improve with time and I hope you enjoy the video anyway. I have summarised the main points underneath the video too for anyone who wants the short version.

There are so many benefits of yoga on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. For example yoga:

  • Increases strength and flexibility of muscles and joints
  • Strengthens bones to reduce risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduces tension from the physical, mental and emotional bodies
  • Calms the nervous system and the mind
  • Boosts mood and reduces anxiety and depression
  • Helps to connect with something larger than yourself through meditation

Practicing specific yoga asana and pranayama throughout the different phases of the menstrual cycle can also help women specifically by:

  • Regulating cycles or bringing back a missing cycle
  • Normalising menstrual blood flow
  • Reducing pain in the pelvis, lower back and thighs during menstruation
  • Creating emotional and mental stability especially during the pre-menstrual phase
  • Reconnecting with feminine nature and yin energy
  • Boosting creative and sexual energies

There are 4 main phases of the hormonal cycle to be aware of which can be referred to as the “inner seasons”.

Menstruation (inner winter) – A time to rest and recharge. Focus on gentle yin and restorative postures and meditation rather than intense standing poses or dynamic sequences. Use props to support the body and conserve energy. Avoid standing backbends and inversions (where the hips are raised higher than the head) as well as intense pranayama. Focus on abdominal or yogic breathing instead

Follicular (inner spring) – Time to rebalance the body. Bring in some inversions in the days following your period. Pay attention to your energy levels and start to increase the intensity of your practice as you move through this phase. Include flowing vinyasa sequences if you have this in your practice and enjoy moving your body more dynamically.

Ovulation (inner summer) – Focus on building strength in the body. Now is the time to experiment with more challenges asana to find your edge and increase fitness and flexibility. Use pranayama breathing exercises to calm down the nervous system if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or frazzled by this high intensity phases.

Pre-menstrual (inner autumn) – Time to slow down again. Notice when your body sends the signal that it needs more rest and adjust your practice accordingly. Towards the end of this phase start to shift the balance of your practice towards more seated and lying postures, in particular the few days before you start your period. Make sure to reconnect with your meditation and pranayama practice if you have been distracted during the busier first half of the cycle

Masculine vs. feminine approach to yoga

Yoga means something different to everyone. There are so many lineages, teaching styles and practices to choose from that one person can have a completely different experience to the next. Now there is the debate about “modern yoga” and whether it fully reflects the depths of the ancient yoga teachings but this isn’t what I want to talk about today. I want to open up a conversation about masculine and feminine approaches to yoga. Credit to Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, author of Yoni Shakti, for sparking my thinking about this topic.

The history of yoga in the East began in a very masculine way. Only priests known as Brahmans were allowed to teach yoga and this was only to males from higher caste families. It was only later that the Upanishads enabled lower classes and women to access the teachings of yoga. Nowadays, at least in Western yoga, it is a completely different story with the majority of yoga teachers and practitioners being women. I know from my own experience, the classes I have attended have been 90% female and the two yoga teacher trainings I have been a part of have been all women expect 1 token male in each (shout out to Mark and Phil if you’re reading).

Masculine approach to yoga

Why does yoga mostly attract us women? In my opinion yoga is the perfect antedote to the very masculine world we live in today. Often we have to “man up” and push ourselves to make it in the male dominated society that we live in. Most women work these days and the typical jobs where we are expected to show up and perform at our best each and every day is totally against the cyclical nature of our beings. But a yoga practice can be that space in our lives where we can totally let go of the pressures of life and be ourselves. Practicing yoga regularly is great for our physical health and vitality but also helps to meet our mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Yoga classes can also provide that feeling of community and support that is so important to our wellbeing.

But even with this new wave of women in yoga there are still masculine undertones in certain types of practice. Traditionally, yoga schools are hierarchical in structure with gurus acquiring followings of students who dedicated themselves to moving along the yogic path. Examples that are common today in the West are Iyengar, Bikram and Ashtanga yoga, both highly demanding physical practices although in different ways. Why is this a masculine approach? Well often these practices are very rigid. They teach a specific practice and often other forms of yoga are disregarded as “not real yoga”. The practice is goal orientated, trying to achieve a specific posture or state of mind. Ashtanga and Bikram yoga in particular also follow a fixed sequence of postures making the practice more repetitive and less intuitive.

In terms of yogasana there are “perfect postures” with the thought being that every body can get there in the end with enough dedication and persistence. This can be seen in the meticulous way that Iyengar teaches alignment in poses with props and similarly Ashtanga yoga is a very strict practice where the same sequence of poses is practiced each time, working towards more advanced postures. Now I am not criticising either of these yoga practices. They have huge benefits, enabling the practitioner to open up physically, emotionally, energetically, mentally and spiritually. However, the strict nature of these practices leaves little room for individuality and listening to the body. The practices are designed by men, for men and therefore do not take into account the cyclical nature of the female body.

So what  does a feminine approach to yoga look like? There are many types of yoga available today which specifically incorporate the softer, graceful, intuitive aspects of feminine energy including Yin yoga and Shakti yoga. But the key point is encouraging students to use their practice to become aware of the rhythm and cycles of their bodies. Instead of forcing the same practice, allowing some space for the body to speak about what it needs. This could look like adapting the practice based on where she is in her menstrual cycle or in the cycle of life, whether it be motherhood, pregnancy or menopause. This could still include yoga practice based on traditional teachings but also incorporating less conventional practice to compliment this.

When it comes to asana practice, feminine yoga also opens up to enable variations on the “traditional” postures which better suit the body. Whether this is bringing softer, more graceful energy into the poses rather than an angular, straight lines or modifying poses to allow for our curvier female bodies that have bellies and breasts to consider. Pranayama and meditation practice can also be adapted to match the different energetic and emotional states women experience with the tides of hormones in their bodies. Particularly around menstruation, women can access levels of spiritual connection almost effortlessly when practicing menstrual cycle awareness throughout their cycle.

The majority of the yoga teachers I have learnt from have been women, and conversely to India it is true that the vast majority of yoga teachers in the West are female, however I have had a couple of male teachers too. I respect and admire both but there was definitely a different energy about the practice. I love to feel that nurturing, motherly energy when I am in a yoga class so that I feel safe to fully let go and feel deeply during the practice. The classes I have been to with male teachers have felt more structured and masculine energy compared to the more flowing feminine energy. Of course that’s not to say all male yogis teach this way, it’s just been my experience so far.

Right now I try to take aspects from each and change up my practice throughout the month, both in classes and at home, to suit where I am at in my cycle. I really want to start a teaching a yoga class where I can incorporate this cyclical aspect to the practice and help women connect with their bodies and cycles through their yoga practice. Developing this idea is my intention for this month, I’m not sure yet how it will look but I’m planting the seed that will hopefully grow into a beautiful creation I can share with other women over the next weeks. Its the new moon today and I am also embarking on a new chapter of life, moving to a new country so it’s the perfect time.

If you’re interested in this you can follow my blog here or find me on Facebook @moonlifeyoga where I’ll post once I set up the yoga sessions (online only for now).