Yoga is wonderful but it’s easy to get carried away with wanting to achieve a particular shape or push into depth, rather than what is the best fit for the body. There are a few things people often overlook when working on back and spinal flexibility but the most common in my experience is…
Bending the back.
Hear me out – when someone is trying to “bend back” this usually involves approaching the pose by tipping back and dumping the bend into the lower spine. It’s a really common thing – you’ll often see a backbend with a sharp angled pinch into the lower back. This is because the lumbar spine is REALLY flexible compared to the rest of the back, plus it already has a natural curve in the direction we are aiming for.
So what happens? People bend from here. The great majority of the bend being concentrated into a small section of the lower back – doing this alot can cause a whole host of #back problems and discomfort.
The upper back is like the opposite. It’s much less flexible and it curves the opposite way! But it’s your best friend when it comes to finding flexibility.
How so? Bringing a focus on spreading the bend into the upper back is not only going to be safer and feel better, but also benefit the body much more!
Give it a go yourself. Try something like Camel pose or a standing backbend start small then focusing on BREATHING INTO THE RIBS. Think of the spaces between each rib, fill your lungs with glorious breath and feel the front of the body and heart open up. In doing so we increase the length of the front line of the body, and the bend of the upper back. Give your butt a little brace and try to smooth out the backwards curve of the back a little.
It’s something I am still working on myself and like everything, it takes us time. But knowing a trick or two definitely helps the journey.
TLDR “Breathe into your ribs, to bend the upper back” ☺️
Something that not everyone is aware of, physical health is equally important as mental health, in fact they happen to be best friends. When you’re working out, be it in the gym, at a fitness class or outside for a run, if your mind isn’t acting as your best pal and throwing positive vibes your way then your workout is going to suffer because of it. Your brain acts as a control room in your body and basically tells everything else what to do, whether you’re aware of it or not. So if you’re having a day when your brain is asleep, upset, or just not in the mood to work with the rest of your body, then the rest of your body just isn’t going to co-operate.
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with having a ‘down day’, everybody has one now and again because we’re all human and the stresses of life can sometimes get too much. For most people, exercise is a powerful release of stress from these ‘down days’ so going to the gym is their personal coping mechanism for this frame of mind. However, as much as some people want to work out to release this stress, sometimes it can hinder their performance, and that’s ok just take it easy, both on your mind and your body. (Don’t add to your negative feeling, just breathe! Tea helps too :)).
Down days are simply a bump in the road NOT the end of your journey. Getting you and your mind over this bump is more of an achievement than it seems, so just remember that you are capable of making it through challenges and don’t forget to give yourself credit – you’re doing great! If you feel that you need a day off, have one. You can make it up another time, it’s not the end of the world, and your mental and physical wellbeing takes priority. However, if you feel as though going to the gym is going to pick you up and aid in your positivity, go take that feeling out on the weights! You might impress yourself 🙂
It’s also very easy in this day and age to forget that you’re working out to make your mind and your body healthier and happier, it’s extremely common for working out to be fuelled by the social requirement to look a certain way and when you’re struggling to reach that particular goal, it can put a strain on your mind. Little thing to remember – every individual body is different, and equally beautiful. So if you’re worried about the fact that you don’t look exactly like your friend or a celebrity or the guy over in the free weights that looks like he could lift a thousand kilos with his little finger, then stop, take a look in the mirror and appreciate what and who you are. Because trust me, there are most likely lots of other people who look at you the way that you look at those above and wish they were more like you (because you’re incredible and you should give yourself way more love than you do). Also, you’re an expert at being you. No-one else can do that like you can, so go and show them what you’re made of 😉 .
Every day, week or month, set yourself small goals. These little hills are more achievable than a huge mountain and by successfully completing one of these challenges more often you will feel a greater sense of achievement and inspire yourself to carry on the journey for longer (it’s a marathon not a sprint, remember).
Lastly, DON’T FORGET that eating right has more of an impact on your physical and mental wellness than you think. Fuel your mind and your body with nutritious foods that will help program you to become a positive version of yourself. I know from experience that it’s very easy to be having a bad day and think ‘I’m just going to get a take away’ or ‘I’m just going to eat that chocolate bar instead of my lunch’ or ‘I’m just going to skip breakfast today’. It’s ok to eat small amounts of ‘bad’ food once in a while, but don’t make a habit of it, have a balanced diet and all that jazz. Trust me, ‘bad’ food has such a negative impact on your mental health. It can make you feel less energised and less motivated to get other things done, which then leads to a snowball effect of feeling gross in lots of ways. It’s not worth it. Tell yourself that eating wrong will only make you feel worse, have a healthier snack instead! I recommend a Nakd Bar, they’re vegan, super healthy and most importantly YUM. Reprogram yourself to be kinder to your body. It will help you in your mental wellbeing and your time in the gym.
Remind yourself now and again to throw as much love at yourself as you throw at other people because you deserve to be the best version of you that there could possibly be 🙂 x
There are three main Branches of the Holistic Trinity as I like to call it. Chances are you’ve heard of one – if not all of them. Every day millions of people practise Yoga, Pilates, & Tai Chi – Seldom all Three. Here are the main differences and why you should embrace their practises collectively.
I was once told that there are as many types of Yoga as there are People on Earth; whilst there are many different styles, I’ve boiled it down to 4 primary approaches the physical practise takes:-
Slow Yoga (Slowga?!)
The slower styles allow you to learn what the heck you’re doing! These classes tend to be fantastic for beginners and Intermediates alike – whether in a slow flow or a static posture; teachers have more space to guide you through each asana (pose).
These classes are generally for the workout and the SWEAT! Classes are geared more towards the athletic side of things as they cycle through series of poses. Beginners may struggle more here as the faster pace can be difficult to keep up with without a pre-existing foundation to work from.
Restorative classes develop a deeper understanding of oneself – body & mind! Breath focus is more pronounced here; as students are encouraged to internalise their practise more whilst holding asanas for longer periods of time. Most classes generally focus on passive stretching, extended Pranayama (Breath Practises) and of course a good ol’ OM/AUM. These classes often focus on the more spiritual aspect of Yoga practise.
These classes are for the more energetic, well-practised, insta-hungry students. With a solid foundation of experience, strength and flexibility, these classes work on “the flashy stuff” that pops up on your feed. Think Crow is tough? Try this One-Arm-Handstand-With-Your-Eyes-Closed Variation! Okay that might be pushing it – but there are some truly fantastic opportunities to explore with a teacher who knows their stuff.
*BONUS* – WEIRD Yoga
Beer Yoga. Goat Yoga. Naked Yoga…Need I Say More?
Whilst the focus may differ between approaches, Yoga is based on Poses or “asanas”. Breath is taken through the nose; the inhale mostly being used to open and lengthen the body – creating space, the exhale is mostly used when closing/deepening/grounding. It can also be a point of focus for meditation or a practise in itself as there are numerous Breathing Exercises one may work on with Yoga. Of the three, Yoga has the most emphasis on FLEXIBILITY.
A much younger approach to exercise and wellbeing than it’s Indian & Asian Counterparts. Western in Origin & founded by Joseph Pilates; This approach was initially created to rehabilitate people with special considerations such as injuries or conditions – famously many ballerinas within New York.
Depending on who you ask there are NINE Principles to the Pilates method of Contrology:
Whilst every class with every teacher is different, there are pretty much 3 ways of doing it:
Based on the pure, original sequence of 34 Exercises developed by Joseph Pilates himself. In any good class, exercises can be modified depending on ability level (many of them are pretty tough!) however the sequence stays the same. The repetition of exercises allows students, in their familiarity with the work, more awareness and focus on the principles listed above. This also ensures a balanced practise engaging the whole body through controlled movements – often with the use of some equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in Vlad the Impalers Basement.
Most Pilates nowadays blend the traditional exercises, with other conditioning methods found in a multitude of fitness approaches. Using props to add extra elements of challenge such as resistance and stability. Class structure varies widely – whilst many classes are balanced in approach, teachers have the autonomy to focus on specific ares if they wish so don’t be surprised to have an entire class focused on standing exercises, or lower body flexibility training for example.
In Pilates – the method is everything. Whether performing a Monkey Squat, challenging roll up or a simple Posture Alignment; without applying the principles it’s just normal exercise! Many classes focus more on creating a fun, tough workout than adhering to all of the “rules”, instead taking inspiration from the method and sequence to create something new.
Pilates is most well known for its breathing techniques, core & pelvic floor engagement, and emphasis on CONTROL through each exercise. And again whilst every class is different; Pilates has the greatest emphasis on STRENGTH out of the three – particularly Core Strength.
Based on the Ancient Philosophy of Yin & Yang – Tai Chi is an internal Chinese Martial Art known for its Defence Training, Health Benefits and Moving Meditation. It often focuses on precise, whole body movements and control of the body internal energy or “Qi” (pronounced “Chee”). There are 5 traditional styles of Tai Chi:-
Wu Hao Style
Each of them have their own approach but all draw from the original Chen style. Here are a few differences between classes you may encounter here in the West.
Health Focused Tai Chi
The Chen and Yang styles are the most popular form of Tai Chi practised Worldwide. Most classes focus on learning and developing sequences of whole body movements linked together in order such as the famous 24 Form. This approach to Tai Chi is suitable for people from all walks of life from the frail to the athletic as quality of movement and internal connection is encouraged more than physical exertion.
Martial Arts Application
Tai Chi at its core is a martial art. It teaches how to control an opponents energy force based on their attack or recoil. Some classes focus more on this aspect and even pair students up to practise movements together. The fundamentals are the same, but the practical application has more presence here.
Meditation Focused Tai Chi
Some Tai Chi approaches are much more subtle in their physical movements and instead focus largely on the internal energy control of the practitioner. This style of practise can also link with the Health Focus as it’s an excellent choice for the elderly and the frail with classes such as Chair Tai Chi with the smaller movements being simpler than other styles.
Tai Chi is widely known for its beautiful movements and Yin/Yang Philosophy. Each inhale is used to gather the body’s “Qi”, each exhale to deliver it. Of the three holistic approaches Tai Chi generally has the strongest meditative focus and is widely the most physically suitable for people from all backgrounds.
In terms of the physical practises; Yoga is about postures, Pilates is about exercises & core work, Tai Chi is about flowing movements. Breath in Yoga is used to open and close the body, in Pilates it’s used to maintain posture and activate the core, in Tai Chi it’s used to collect and deliver ones energy.
Traditionally, students of one style have different ability levels to students of another. People who practise Yoga tend to be more flexible, Pilates practitioners tend to have better core strength and Tai Chi students have the best level of concentration and attention to detail in practise. When we draw upon all three styles in our practise, we are harnessing the strengths of each for the best effect and benefit for our bodies. Importantly all three have a different Origin, History, Culture etc and being open to them all allows us as individuals to be more mindful, aware and open in general.
ODYSSEY was created to bring us together in our practise – whatever our background. It introduces new styles and approaches as well as a different perspective on any existing practise we have.