Posted by: Yoga in Borve | December 12, 2017

Daily dose of yoga

You’d think I’d know – really, really know – by now that I need to keep up a very regular ‘healthy movement’ practice. I’m saying that, rather than yoga, because I know what works for me is the combination of daily yoga and walking, and ideally weekly pilates and swimming too. Earlier this year, when I wrote the post Why do yoga at home? the very first reason on my personal list was:

Yoga is the glue that holds me together and the WD40 which keeps me working as smoothly as possible. I have scoliosis and without yoga I’d probably be in chronic pain by now. I certainly wouldn’t be able to move as freely and comfortably as I do. For me, it is a no-brainer to have a regular, consistent yoga practice which I am confident to take responsibility for – it’s not dependent on any particular class, teacher, piece of equipment or locale.

Image result for before and after yoga cartoon

[Cartoon probably by Cris Parga – that’s the only attributed one I could find!]

However, we are all human and we all lapse, and a couple of months ago I had a nice little lesson in just how small a lapse could return me to back pain. One Wednesday, I had no yoga teaching, and a lot of deskwork to do before I headed out to a training course on the mainland. The weather was terrible, so I let the dogs out in the garden instead of taking them for the usual mile or so walk. I intended to do a short yoga practice, but I ran out of time answering work emails. After sitting nearly all morning, I got in the car and drove for an hour. Then I sat for two hours in a hot meeting room for my course. I’m rarely down at the south end of the island, so I took the chance to catch up with a friend on the way home…at least another hour’s sitting, as well as having overall the same length of drive home again, the last stretch of which was dark, windy, wet and generally tension-inducing.

Now, if I’d been WISE, once I’d had my dinner, I’d have made myself go out for a walk (in waterproofs and with a headtorch…) and then done even 10 minutes of stretching. BUT. At that point I was still feeling absolutely fine, just tired. And more inclined to check my emails then read a book than to do any exercise. So I just sat some more. I don’t even want to work it out, but I must have been sitting either in the car, on a sofa or at a table for at least 10 hours on that Wednesday.

Haha, you fool, said my body. And I woke up on the Thursday with a very stiff back.

As you can imagine, I was really careful from that moment on to resume frequent gentle walking and stretching. On the Sunday, my lower back and SI joints still felt achy and vulnerable. But I’d avoided a worse crisis, and by Tuesday my back had returned to its normal pain-free happy state.

It showed me I can’t afford to be complacent, ever…BUT. Only a few weeks later, I was away from home, worried about someone close to me who was having an operation, and once again sitting in the car for many more hours than normal. I skipped four days’ of yoga practice, but was still walking the usual amount…except for the last day, which was our drive home. And a muscle in my back went into spasm the very next day. I was pleasantly amazed to discover how quickly I could go from extreme pain and limited mobility to gently easing everything out (less than 24hrs) and back to normal (48hrs in terms of being able to work & move apparently normally, perhaps a week till I felt fully recovered), simply by using the healthy movement strategies I’ve learned in recent years – compared to ten years ago, when a similar spasm put me out of normal action for many weeks. Still, I’m hoping I’ll be smart enough in future not to get complacent about my health and neglect my daily practice until my back protests!

I’ve been talking in this post primarily about having a regular yoga practice to manage physical conditions and reduce or avoid physical pain, because that has been my personal priority. Of course, there’s plenty evidence that physical, emotional and mental health are closely interconnected. In fact, stress is often a factor in back pain – and I can see this in my own life, since my very first bout of back pain age 17. There’s growing evidence that a regular practice of yoga (which includes breathing exercises and meditation) helps maintain or promote mental and emotional wellbeing. I’ve been working on developing a more regular meditation practice as part of my yoga throughout 2017, but that’s a story for another post. If you want to know more about yoga in relation to e.g. stress, panic attacks, anxiety, depression or grief, have a search in the archives of Yoga for Healthy Aging. I’d also recommend Amy Weintraub’s book Yoga for Depression. I realised while I was writing this post that my title was inspired by something she said, so I went searching for the quote I was half-remembering, so I could share it with you here:

please practise every day in some way. You don’t take your antidepressant three times a week. Like medication, for Yoga to be effective, you need a daily dose.

Amy Weintraub (2004: 248).

It was not fun experiencing back pain again for the first time in ages, but it was a useful reminder of my need to ‘keep up the good work’. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but in 2018 I’ll be aiming for a daily dose of yoga and walking – whatever the weather, and whatever else is going on in my life.


Posted by: Yoga in Borve | October 22, 2017

Yoga for Men

Over the last year or so, I’ve had a lot of guys (or their wives/partners) saying to me they’d like to try yoga but aren’t totally comfy with being perhaps the only man in the class. While all my classes are open to adults of any age and gender – and I think we’re a welcoming bunch – I can understand that. When I imagine how I’d feel, never having played shinty and knowing almost nothing about it, if I went along to a shinty coaching session where I was the only woman and everyone else there were men who’d played shinty before… it would be a bit daunting.

I’d love to see more men on Skye doing yoga & pilates – both are of benefit to people, not just women. Of course, up until relatively recently in India, the original home of yoga, it was done mainly by men – and Joseph Pilates developed many of his methods from the yoga he did as a teenager! Yoga develops strength, balance, co-ordination and flexibility. Sound research evidence demonstrates a range of benefits from regular yoga practice over several months, such as reducing back pain and improving mood/managing stress. You start from where you are – wherever that is on the spectrum from couch potato to athlete*! – and practise at the right pace for yourself.

I decided to offer some ‘yoga for men’ classes this winter. I sent an email to some people I could remember expressing interest, who I actually had contact details for. To my surprise and delight, the first option – a Monday evening class – was fully booked in no time, before I’d even ‘advertised’ it in any way.  So, if there are other guys out there who would also like the chance to give a men’s yoga class a go, I could put on a second block of four classes. These would be 4-5.15pm on Sundays 19/11, 26/11, 3/12 and 10/12. The classes would be in the yoga room here in Borve, with a maximum of five men in the group. All mats and other equipment would be provided by me, though you can bring your own if you have it and prefer to use it.  The cost would be £30 if advance booking the whole block, £8.50 if booking an individual class.
Complete beginners are welcome, as are those with any amount or type of yoga experience. It would also be good to have men in the group who have done yoga previously in mixed gender classes (whether mine or other teachers).
Spread the word to any men you think might be interested… And please get in touch as soon as possible if you’d like me to run the Sunday men’s yoga sessions. Thank you!
*Yoga is an element in the training regimes of many football teams and other athletes – here are just a few links as examples:

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | October 1, 2017

Pilates Pop-up

I’ve been missing the chance to go along to someone else’s Pilates class regularly – I think I managed to get to Nikki’s Thursday class once in August, and before that the last class I was at was in Nairn in May! So last week, I vowed I’d at least do a regular Pilates session myself each weekend (I do a lot of yoga at home, including some strengthening moves which feature in both yoga and Pilates, but I don’t tend to run through a whole Pilates class plan as my personal practice).

Today was a horrible day – wet, windy, dark – and I spent much of it reading and working at the computer.

At six o’clock, I put on some music in the studio and worked through next Friday’s Fingal Centre pilates lesson plan. By the end of the session I felt approximately 10 times more cheerful and energetic! It was so much fun I’ve decided to do that for the next three Sunday evenings, and invite you to join me too.

SO – cheer up these dark autumn evenings by dropping in to my spur of the moment ‘Pop-up Pilates’ sessions on:

  • Sundays 8th, 15th and 22nd October.
  • 6-7pm in the Borve studio (email me for directions if you’ve not been here before).
  • A bargainous £6, because…
  • …you need to bring your own mat (and blanket, if you like extra padding), and…
  • …I will be doing the session alongside you. So I will be teaching – giving technique instructions, etc. – but I will not be watching over you in a hawk-like way, like I do with the Friday class!
  • For that reason, this session isn’t suitable for complete beginners.
  • Suitable for anyone who has done a bit of yoga and/or pilates already, and doesn’t currently have any serious injuries or health conditions.
  • We’ll be running through the class plan I’ll be using the following Friday. In a small group, that may take less than an hour – if so, there will be time to practise and/or get individual feedback on any Pilates exercises or techniques you’d like to ask about.
  • Drop-in, no need to book – the back door will be unlocked at 5.55pm and I’ll be there doing Pilates from 6pm.

Come along, and banish the “aye, the nights are fair drawing in” blues! Catherine x


Posted by: Yoga in Borve | July 11, 2017

Midsummer Review

There are some changes afoot to this website as well as my classes/policies. I hope you’ll read the whole of this post, but if not, here’s the minimum ‘need-to-know’:

  1. read the booking & cancellation policy on the new ‘Booking‘ page
  2. see the new ‘Timetable‘ page for info on classes 

Thank you! And please do read on…

Although weekly general classes haven’t been on in June and early July, and I’ve been here, there and everywhere, I’ve also spent a lot of time working at home. I’ve been mulling over the last year, reviewing finances, completing tax returns, dealing with enquiries, and planning future yoga and pilates teaching.

Since last summer, I’ve finished my prenatal yoga qualification and added pregnancy yoga courses to my timetable. I learned so much of value from Judy Cameron’s ‘Yoga for Pregnancy’ training module; and the groups of local pregnant ladies I’ve taught during and since the module have been great fun. And of course, it’s a special moment when I get to meet or see a photo of one of the ‘yoga babies’ once they’ve made their way into the world!

Willie, at 8 weeks – one of our first Skye & Lochalsh ‘yoga babies’. He’s now more than 6 months old and doing great 🙂

In the last year, I’ve also done a lot of varied and interesting private tuition: all ages from about 7 to 70; from one-to-ones up to large groups; from those new to yoga/pilates to those with lots of experience; and a very wide spectrum of fitness levels and health conditions. I increased the number and variety of weekend workshops I do, using these as a way to focus in on particular aspects or styles of yoga. The weekend workshops have also been a good way for those who don’t wish or aren’t able to come to a regular weekday class to do some yoga with others occasionally. Pilates teacher Hazel Robertson and myself ran two very popular ‘pilates/yoga/chocolate’ afternoons earlier in the year. Putting on an afternoon, day or weekend event with other teachers is definitely something I’d like to do more of in the future. Hazel and I also worked together on a handout of modifications and alternatives for those attending our pilates classes, with the blessing of their physiotherapists but with spinal conditions (e.g. osteopenia) which mean not all exercises are appropriate for them. Local physiotherapists who also themselves have yoga/pilates experience provided helpful advice and feedback for this project. I enjoy working with other professionals and increasing my knowledge of specific conditions such as osteporosis – one of the things I love about what I do is there is always scope to learn more!

Financially, the good news is after two years making a loss, then a third year in which I was into teensy-weensy profit, in my fourth financial year of self-employment, I made a slightly more respectable profit. Not enough to reach the threshold where I’d have to pay tax. And not nearly enough to qualify as a living wage, let alone a ‘professional salary’ for the average weekly working hours I’ve put in. But I find it heartening, anyway!

Heartening, but not sustainable in the longer term, so I’ve been using some of my free hours when I’d normally be teaching this month to work out how, after the summer, I can keep offering the same amount of classes in a more viable way. Because I really do love teaching you all.

I attend pilates and yoga classes everywhere I go in Scotland, so I’m aware my class rates are quite a bargain, particularly for the small class sizes I teach and the level of experience/training I have. Nevertheless, I am going to stick with my 2015 prices as far as possible. So, if you advance book two or more classes (which is what most of you do), the rate will continue to be £7.50 per 90 minute class. The cost of a one-off class payment and/or ‘pay on the day’ is rising to £8.50. Private tuition will continue to be a total fee of £30/hr for 1 or 2 people. The total hourly rate for private tuition groups of 3-6 people is increasing to £33/hr.

Rather than hiking prices higher, my plan is to make ‘Yoga in Borve’ viable by working more efficiently. In a nutshell this means me spending less time on the computer. At the moment, I spend well over ten hours a week dealing with emails, and this can certainly be reduced.

So – I’d like you to think of your mat place in class in the same way as you would a ticket for a cinema or train seat – you book it by paying for it, and if you can’t come to it, you can choose to send someone instead of you, or leave it empty. I will no longer be organising substitutes/refunds for people – but I am still happy for you to organise someone else to take your place in any class you’ve booked but can no longer come to. Just let me know if you’ve arranged this. Also, from now on places are only booked once the money is actually in my hands or in my bank account. I am sorry to have to get stricter about this; but it’s because I’m increasingly experiencing time-consuming situations in which someone tells me they’ve booked by transferring money online, yet the money doesn’t appear in my account, and I’m left for several days not knowing whether they’ve changed their mind, forgotten, not actually sent the money yet but are intending to, or have sent the money but something has gone wrong – and I have to keep checking my account then try to chase it up tactfully.

Please read the new Booking tab on my website for the full information on these changes.

I will also be changing the way I deal with emails by setting aside a maximum of two hours a day – one in the morning and one in the evening – to respond to them. Essential enquiries (such as, ‘is there a space in tomorrow’s class and if so can I pay for it now?’) should still receive a response within 24hrs. Emails which ask for information which is easily available on the website (such as ‘how much does a class cost now?’ or ‘what time is the Thursday class?’), or has already been received via email by the enquirer (such as ‘which classes did I book in for this month?’) will be given lower priority.

I know my regulars are a lovely bunch of people, and of course it’s in your interests too if I’m able to continue offering classes at these prices on 5 or 6 days of the week, so I thought I’d let you know some things you can do to make my current level of yoga & pilates teaching and pricing more viable. Lots of you do some or all of these things already, and I really appreciate that. Others amongst you will just not have realised quite how much time overall I spend on these things, and now that you know, you might be able to make a few wee changes to help reduce my hours in front of the screen.


  1. At the time you book classes, keep your own written record of what you’ve paid for (whether that’s keeping the booking email somewhere you can find it, using a diary or calendar, etc.)
  2. When you need some information about classes, booking, etc., check the website first to see if the info you need is there
  3. Ask yourself: ‘Might Catherine already have emailed me the information I’m wanting?’ If so, please search your own email folders for it before emailing me
  4. Learn how to search your emails properly if you don’t know how to at the moment. For example, in Hotmail/Outlook (the systems I use), even if you’ve deleted an email from me, you could retrieve it by going to your deleted folder and typing ‘yoga catherine’ into the ‘Search mail and people’ box, and it will bring up all the emails containing those terms. When folk email me saying they’ve ‘lost’ an email from me, I often have to run this type of search for them on my folders
  5. If you’re wanting recommendations for yoga resources, practices or products, in the first instance look at my website and the Yoga in Borve facebook page – I regularly share others’ articles, yoga teaching film clips, etc., which I think are good. There are also reviews of books and yoga mats on my website, as well as posts with advice and links about practising yoga at home.
  6. If you’re wanting free professional advice, ask me before or after your class – I’m always around for 5 or 10 minutes either side of the class time. Or, if you happen to see me in a cafe or at a social event – I’m always happy to chat about yoga & pilates!
  7. If you need more than ten minutes of my time to advise you on your yoga practice (and please bear in mind it always takes me far longer than ten minutes to read and respond to an email asking for advice about particular health issues, yoga poses, resources, etc.), you can book a private tuition appointment with me. Most people book an hour and find it goes quickly, but you could also book a half hour slot, if an hour seems too long or too expensive. Booking a private session means not only will I have done research into the best poses/resources for the issues you’ve raised, but you will also get the benefit of doing the suggested poses/breathing exercises under individual guidance.

Those of you who have made it this far through the post – thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this – I really appreciate it!

If you have any requests or suggestions – things you’d like to see included in classes? workshops or events for the autumn and winter? improvements I could make in communicating with those who already come to classes, or encouraging those who are tempted but haven’t quite got round to trying yoga or pilates yet? – please do let me know; your input is always valued.

Looking forward to doing yoga and pilates with you soon,

Best wishes, Catherine

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | May 22, 2017

Summer timetable

For classes in July & August, please also see the Weekly classes section which summarises the timetable info below and indicates current space availability. 

In past years, I’ve not run weekly classes during the school summer holidays. But! Last summer there was considerable demand for ongoing sessions from the regulars who were here and wanting to come to a weekly class. Because of this, and also because I’m away a lot this year during late June/early July, I’m offering a four week block of Borve summer classes this year. Private tuition is available all year round.


Each class is a four week course, and if you advance book all four sessions of that course, the block price is £30.  If you are advance booking two or more sessions out of that four week course, they cost £8 each.

The cost for one-off sessions or pay-on-the-day ’24hr notice’ bookings is £8.50.

All classes are in the Borve yoga studio – please email me for directions if you haven’t been here before. The maximum class size is six; if the prenatal yoga class runs, the maximum size for that will be five.

As you can see, there are changes to times as well as venues – and I’ve taken the opportunity of class sizes being smaller to offer more specialised options. If you are unsure whether a class will be suitable for you and would like my opinion/advice, please email me.


Yoga (General). Time: 3-4.30pm. Dates: 17/7, 24/7, 31/7, 7/8. This class is intended primarily for those who currently come to my general classes and have some joint pain – this is most commonly in wrists, hands or knees (but those with other affected joints such as feet, hip, spine, etc. – or no joint pain at all! – are also welcome to join this class). So this will be a general class but will have minimal inclusion of the poses which people with joint pain typically have to miss or modify (e.g. all fours, and weight-bearing on wrists/hands).

Yoga (Pregnancy). Time: 7.15-8.30pm. Dates: 17/7, 24/7, 31/7, 7/8. I’m not sure if there will be enough pregnant ladies around to make up a class! But I’m happy to run one if there are at least three who can commit to advance booking the block. If there’s not enough demand for this during the school holidays, please remember I also do private tuition of prenatal yoga (I can teach one-to-one, couples, or small groups – see the Prenatal yoga and Private tuition tabs for more information).


Yoga (Experienced). Time: 5.30-7pm. Dates: 18/7, 25/7, 1/8, 8/8. A class for people who have been doing yoga for several years, who enjoy both going to classes and practising yoga at home. You certainly don’t have to be super-flexible to come to this class. You do, however, need to have fairly good self-awareness about body positioning and alignment, and be familiar with the most common yoga asana (poses) so you are able to move into asana with less detailed instruction than in a general class, and could occasionally choose your own asana (e.g. I might say, ‘move into the second side of Warrior 1 when you are ready, then follow it by resting in any symmetrical position’ or ‘finish with a balance pose you want to do tonight – Tree, Eagle, New Moon, Warrior 3 or any other of your preference’).


Yoga (General). Time: 1.30-3pm. Dates: 19/7, 26/7, 2/8, 9/8. A general class for those who would like to try slightly more physically demanding sequences and asanas. You do not have to have lots of yoga experience, but you should not have health conditions or joint pain which could be exacerbated by doing flowing sequences or by holding poses for longer than in my regular general classes.


Yoga (Gentle). Time: 1.30-3pm.  Dates: 20/7, 27/7, 3/8, 10/8. This class is a good choice for beginners or anyone with yoga experience who would like to take things a little more gently than in a general class, for any reason. Please note it is not a chair yoga class – we will be doing a normal range of asana (poses) from standing, seated, all fours, lying down, etc. There will be a little more time allowed for transitions between poses, as well as more time spent on warming up at the start of class and relaxation/breathing exercises at the end.

Fridaysbridge on the bridge

Yoga (General).  Time: 1.30-3pm. Dates: 21/7, 28/7, 4/8, 11/8. A standard general class, i.e. anyone, with any level of experience from beginners onwards, is welcome.

Pilates (General).  Time: 5.15-6.15pm.  Venue: Portree High School. Maximum class size 14. This class must be booked via the Fingal Centre (see the Pilates tab on this website for details).  It runs throughout the year.


I run weekend yoga sessions every month or so, exploring different aspects and styles of yoga. If you’d be interested in coming to these sessions or have requests or suggestions for future weekend workshops, please do get in touch.

Sundays 28th May and 25th June. Time: 6.30-8pm (with option of staying on for a meditation/cup of tea afterwards from 8.15-8.30pm-ish). Venue: Borve. Cost: £8.50 per session, or £15 if booking both sessions. These evening sessions will aim to ease the body and calm the mind – ready for a good night’s sleep, the week ahead, and if you wish, staying on for a short session of sitting meditation (at no extra charge). Please see the Meditation tab for more information on the monthly meditation group sessions, if you’d like to stay on for this after the yoga session finishes at 8pm.

For all these classes please follow the normal booking procedures, which can be found at the top of the ‘Weekly classes’ section of this website.

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | April 26, 2017

Have you seen Clyde?!

As many of you know already, we’ve not seen our much-loved cat, Clyde, since Easter Sunday. He loves his home comforts, his family, and all the fuss and attention he gets from visiting yoga students – so we’re very worried about him. He’s never wandered off even for 24 hours before.


We’re lucky to have great neighbours and many cat-lovers in Borve, so there are lots of folk looking out for him. It’s a slim possibility he might have inadvertently travelled further afield in a van or lorry, so we’re trying to share his picture widely enough that he’ll be recognised elsewhere on Skye.

Clyde is a big cat, with beautiful green eyes, a distinctive spotted/striped coat with touches of bronze/orange, and a VERY loud miaow. He doesn’t wear a collar. He is very affectionate with people and (unlike many other cats I’ve known!) positively enjoys and seeks out the company of children.



If you have any information or possible sightings of Clyde, please do get in touch. We would so love to have him home safe. Many thanks, Catherine.

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | February 19, 2017

Yoga practice for coping with chronic pain, illness and stress

Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation.  It doesn’t exactly sound like a yoga book, does it? And every time a new edition comes out, it gets bigger, which I reckon must put a lot of people off:

Yes, it's a huge tome...

Oh dear yes, it’s a huge tome…

Another rare (hence blurry) selfie to show in ‘real life scale’ the size of the book:

....but it's an easy & interesting read!

…but it’s an easy & interesting read!

But. I think everyone would benefit from reading this book. I realise you might be more motivated to crack on and read the thing and do the programme if you’re currently living with some kind of long-term issue which affects your health and wellbeing – whether that’s back pain, migraines, anxiety, arthritis, a heart condition, or whatever. I also know from personal experience, however, that there’s good reason to read, understand and ‘do’ the book before you’re having to deal with an intensely stressful situation – as we all inevitably have to, at some point in our lives.

Jon Kabat-Zinn first published this groundbreaking book about the groundbreaking work of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachussets Medical Center in 1990. Back then, what he and his colleagues were teaching and researching was so far from mainstream that if you’d said ‘mindfulness’ to almost anyone in Scotland they’d have replied ‘eh?’ Even the physical poses of yoga were still considered a bit hippy and niche. Since those days, yoga has grown and grown in popularity, while in recent years ‘mindful’ has become quite the buzzword. I would guess, though, that most people are unaware Kabat-Zinn’s evidence-based programme has been adopted by hospitals and health services worldwide, including our own NHS. Every year, there is more research into the applications and effects of the MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) programme – which is why each edition of the book gets a little bigger! Although large, it’s written in an easily readable style and there’s quite a bit of repetition: it’s intended to be a practical handbook, so I think Kabat-Zinn assumes people will read the first few sections then cut to whichever of the later chapters speak most directly to them (e.g. insomnia, or phsyical pain, or work stress, etc.).

Full Catastrophe Living was one of the key texts recommended on the massage therapy diploma I did about 16 years ago. I bought a copy thinking it would be useful for my partner at the time, who suffered from serious, chronic, lower back pain. It quickly became apparent he wasn’t inclined to make the time to read the book, let alone do the programme or make any lifestyle changes – he preferred to hold out for better drugs or a miraculous new form of surgery. Since I had the book, I decided I might as well work my way through it and the 8 week programme myself.

Bear in mind I was BUSY at the time – a full-time lecturer at Edinburgh University, plus studying for assignments and exams for the massage diploma, plus completing another certificate in university teaching.  Along with all the usual outside-work relationship and family stuff. So I am living proof of what Kabat-Zinn says – it’s not easy to make time for it, but it is simple and can be done, if you want to do it enough (I just made myself get up an hour earlier each day; you could also do it by cutting down on TV or Facebook or whatever your personal timesuck is).

I enjoyed doing the yoga, relaxation and mindfulness meditation, and found it helped me take a step back and think about what I wanted to do in life – which led me to move from Edinburgh to Skye a year or so later. But having done the programme really came into its own when I suddenly had to deal with major emergency surgery for a very rare and poorly understood type of ovarian tumour. During the emotional stress and physical pain of this, and the long haul of convalescence, I found that without consciously thinking of it, I drew on the breathing techniques and underlying principles of the MBSR approach – and they really helped me get through a tough time.

Since then, I’ve bought many copies of the book to give to friends going through their own tough times. And now I’d like to encourage folk who come to my yoga classes to consider reading it, because I’m increasingly aware many people start coming to yoga (and keep up their yoga longer term) as part of their attempts to deal positively with their own version of the ‘full catastrophe’ – whether that’s work-related stress, physical pain, emotionally difficult family responsibilities, ongoing health conditions – or, all too often, a mix of several such factors.

The current edition of the book is £24. You can also get a set of four CDs to support doing the full programme at home, narrated by Jon Kabat-Zinn himself. That sets you back roughly another £24 jkz-cdsso I never felt I could justify getting the CDs too, since I am happy working from books. However, people in my classes often ask me for recommendations, so after all these years, I’ve finally bought the CDs to see what I thought of them.

If you really hate to read and can’t face the book, there’s an 8 page summary of the MBSR programme in the CD sleeve notes! The CDs themselves comprise:

  1. Body Scan Meditation
  2. Mindful Yoga 1
  3. Sitting Meditation
  4. Mindful Yoga 2

Each CD is about 45 minutes long. I’ve been enjoying using them the last couple of weeks. One thing I’ve noticed is the yoga routines are more effective for me when done listening to the CD audio guide. In the past, I’ve used the yoga routines (which are also illustrated in the book) as gentle daily practices. But being a person who is inclined to be busy and zoom through things, they’ve taken me probably 20 minutes tops when I’ve done them from the book. Having Kabat-Zinn ‘there’ teaching it makes me slooooow right down – which of course makes these gentle yoga poses much more profound and effective.

I’ve decided to offer a couple of drop-in practice sessions for people currently coming to my classes who are interested in experiencing the CDs to see if it might be something they’d like/use at home. These will be held during the first weekend of March. On Saturday 4th, at 11.50am, we’ll do CD2: Mindful Yoga 1. This is more supine/prone/all-fours yoga poses. On Sunday 5th, at 10.30am, we’ll do CD4: Mindful Yoga 2 (with more emphasis on standing poses) followed by CD1: Body Scan Meditation. The Body Scan is the core of the MBSR techniques. It’s basically like the lying-down-comfortably guided relaxation at the end of a yoga class, but longer. You may feel 40 minutes is too long for you, but honestly – the time passes quickly and you feel great afterwards! I’m not including the Sitting Meditation CD in these ‘taster’ sessions, partly due to time constraints (I’m teaching 10.30-11.30am on the Saturday) and partly because I feel 40mins of sitting meditation is physically quite difficult for people who have not done it before. If you come to either of the sessions, you’ll experience enough to know whether the CDs are for you or not, and it’s easier to do the sitting meditation CD at home, where you can move without worrying about disturbing others, or do a shorter session if you prefer.

So – the Saturday practice will last about 45mins and the Sunday practice will be more the length of a standard yoga class, i.e. 90mins. All you need to do is arrive 5 minutes before the start time, with your yoga mat. There will be no charge for these sessions but a donation in the collection can for Skye & Lochalsh Young Carers would be much appreciated. Please email me if you need any more information.

UPDATE – I knew there were audio downloads available of these recordings but hadn’t realised they were much cheaper – you can get an app version for about £10 (thank you, J!).

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | January 15, 2017

Questions to ask your yoga teacher and yourself

There has been controversy rumbling in the world of UK yoga teachers for some time now, over the varied standards of teacher training qualifications. Without going into all the details, it basically centres on whether we should have a set of national standards/minimum qualification levels for yoga teachers, or not. I’m a member of two long-standing and reputable organisations, Yoga Scotland (I did a year’s Foundation Course then a 2 year, 500 hour teacher training course with YS) and the British Wheel of Yoga (I did my additional ‘Yoga for Pregnancy’ qualification last year through BWY). Yoga Scotland is against the proposed system of national standards, while the British Wheel is leading the move to develop and implement national standards. And there are many other organisations involved. I think this is a debate worth having – there are many important issues to discuss – and I understand why feelings are running high, but I’m saddened by the tone and content of some of the contributions I’ve seen on both sides of the debate. It’s probably a bit idealistic of me, but I’d like to think long-term yoga practitioners could discuss strongly felt opinions without making hostile comments or personal attacks!

If you want to know more about the issues, click here for a good post by Alyson Tyler, which contains links to further contributions from different sides of the debate.

Personally, I don’t think the proposed system of NOS (National Occupational Standards) is going to fix the perceived problems. And I don’t think the general-yoga-class-going-public has much interest in or knowledge of varying standards. Certainly, I did yoga with many different teachers for decades, and although I noticed some were better than others, it never really occurred to me they might have very varied levels of experience or training, until I started training myself. And since I started teaching yoga, I can’t think of a single occasion when anyone has asked me what my qualifications and experience are – though they sometimes ask ‘what sort of yoga do you do?’

Actually, if you are choosing a yoga class or going to a new one, it IS worth knowing a bit more about what you’re walking into.  I’m writing this post because the most useful thing I’ve seen so far in the controversy is a list of five questions to ask your yoga teacher and five questions to ask yourself, published this month in the Yoga Scotland magazine. I wish I’d had this list when I was starting out as a yoga beginner a quarter of a century ago! In these internet days, at least you can find out more about prospective classes and teachers via Google. Many yoga teachers are very open about their experience and qualifications on their website (as I am, here and here). However, if you can’t find information on a teacher’s website – or  they don’t seem to have any website at all – that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good. I know several excellent yoga teachers who are not keen on or knowledgeable about the internet and social media!

Whether you can find the information online or ask them in person, these ‘5 questions’ are a great guideline to help you ensure your yoga classes are enjoyable, beneficial and safe.  Anyone who comes regularly to the classes I teach knows that, for various reasons, I encourage people to try different teachers and different yoga styles/traditions. These questions should help you do just that and make it a positive experience. Enjoy your yoga!


Posted by: Yoga in Borve | January 5, 2017

Why do yoga at home?

My last post was about how to develop a home yoga practice.  The day after I’d posted it online, it occurred to me I hadn’t mentioned WHY you might want to practice yoga at home.  Obviously, people who do yoga at home, or want to, know why they think it’s a good idea.  But what if it’s never occurred to you to do yoga at home yourself, and you’re not sure if it’s worth the bother?  This post is for you.

There are many and varied reasons for practising yoga at home. Some of the reasons to do yoga at home are the same as the reasons to do yoga in general – and some are specific to home yoga Yoga room Jul 16practice. I jotted down my own reasons, which I’ll list below, and then I’ll share what some of the folk who come to my classes told me about why they do a home practice.

I have a home yoga practice for these reasons:

  • Owning my yoga! Yoga is the glue that holds me together and the WD40 which keeps me working as smoothly as possible. I have scoliosis and without yoga I’d probably be in chronic pain by now. I certainly wouldn’t be able to move as freely and comfortably as I do. For me, it is a no-brainer to have a regular, consistent yoga practice which I am confident to take responsibility for – it’s not dependent on any particular class, teacher, piece of equipment or locale.
  • Progress and wellbeing. If you do yoga frequently and regularly (that doesn’t mean it has to be intensive or long sessions) you make more noticeable and satisfying progress than if you only do yoga once a week, or erratically. I feel better (physically, mentally and emotionally) if I’m doing yoga regularly.
  • Financial. No class/travel costs. I couldn’t afford to pay a teacher every day for the rest of my life…I appreciate going to classes, workshops and retreats to learn from other teachers Yoga in Borve gardenwhenever I am able to, but it’s nice not to have to.
  • Saves time. The time spent booking a class, travelling to it, doing the class, getting yourself sorted out at the start and packing up afterwards, means one 90 minute class could actually take three hours.  That’s a whole week’s home practice, if you break it down into six half hour sessions – which you could do each day at a time of your own choosing. My personal ideal is going to one yoga class a week and practising at home the rest of the time.
  • Choice/control. Feeling tired? Do restorative poses or a gentle flow. Energy to burn? Do a strong, vigorous practice. Particular poses you want to work on, or areas of the body which need eased out or strengthened, styles of yoga you want to try? You can pick what you want to do rather than fit in with the theme of a large general class (of course, that’s also one of the joys of private one-to-one tuition!). I also love choosing whether I’ll practise in silence or to music, and if so what kind of music I want to play.
  • Peace. I enjoy doing yoga with others who love yoga.  I value having the expert guidance of a teacher. But I also relish doing yoga alone and unwitnessed. It can be an oasis of quiet time in a busy day spent almost constantly with other people.

crow-sept-16Why do YOU do yoga at home?!’

Last August I asked this question of the people who come to my classes and also do yoga at home. I loved reading the responses – they were articulate, moving, funny and varied.  So I’ve kept them as much as possible in people’s own words.  I’ve edited and moved stuff around only enough to protect people’s privacy.

“You definitely see the difference made by a few sessions a week at home. I work on particular sequences/asanas between classes to improve on them – things I enjoy, or focusing on a weak area, or things I aspire to.”

“I find it difficult to commit to booking classes as there always seems to be something getting in the way, so if I was relying on classes I would hardly do any yoga!  When I do get to classes, I enjoy them more because I’m more familiar with setups & alignment & names of moves, and if needed, my own preferred modifications which I’ve worked out at home.  I gain more benefit from fine-tuning cues from the teacher as the basics have become routine. The communal feel of a class is even more enjoyable and novel when most of my yoga has been done at home alone.”

“I do yoga at home to de-stress, especially after a long day at work….also to reinforce my understanding and to give myself time to think about postures etc. I like to put on music and turn my yoga into something more dance-y/flowy/free expression-y just for fun … it might not be very ‘pure’ yoga, but it makes me feel good!”

pregnancy yoga“I am continually learning about my own limitations and abilities – you have more time to explore these aspects at home working at your own pace.  I love the amazement when I can suddenly do something because I have been working away at it for a long time, a few times a week.”

“I feel better physically and mentally after a yoga session. In periods of stress, it becomes a lovely time-out from the stress and helps to restore positivity.  It helps me stay flexible – I need an almost daily session to keep the wheels moving!  It maintains and improves my strength and is a good warm up for a run/jog. In winter it is a great way to fill that rather dead hour between 5 and 6pm when it has got dark too early!”

“I started doing yoga regularly at home after speaking to you when you were teaching a class. I asked you about doing Downward Dog while taking medication for blood pressure. You brought in ‘Yoga as Medicine’, showed me the chapter relating to blood pressure and loaned me the book. I ordered my own copy and since then make a point of completing these yoga moves every morning, plus a few others for balance, and some floor ones as well. My reasons for doing this and attending classes are to maintain a healthy body and stay as fit as possible as I am an active person by nature and recognise I need to work at it. I also do Tai Chi and follow Headspace [a meditation programme].”

“I do a mix of yoga and pilates at home because I enjoy doing it, the peace and solitude and focus for that period of time.  It helps motivate me for other things, particularly a morningyoga on jetty session – no question, it’s the best way to start the day.”

“Wow, well, I don’t know where to begin! There are so many reasons to develop a home practice. For me, health-wise it has helped ease constant dull backache, if I don’t do yoga my back soon tells me. I also do it to strengthen my bones, especially good as one gets older, menopausal, etc. I do it to quieten my mind, even though I don’t have a hectic pressurised job any more, it’s wonderful to focus just on your practice. Unlike going to the gym, yoga is more flexible (pardon the pun) and your home practice can reflect your physical or mental mood: slow, gentle and flowing, or energetic and challenging. The hardest part of starting to practice at home is to make time, if you say ‘oh I’ll fit it in sometime today’, you never do. You need to set a time, make an appointment with yourself just like going to class, it then become routine. For me morning is best, it sets me up for the day and I don’t feel good if I don’t do it.”

“To begin with I practised yoga at home because it was convenient. It still is for that reason as my work load and location doesn’t allow me to attend classes as much as I’d like. But it is now so much more. It allows me to return to my true self on a daily basis! I find real freedom in practising by myself as it give me opportunities to explore and develop the other areas of yoga (8 limbs), as well as the postures. I find aspects of yoga such as pratyahara, dharana and dhyana are more achievable in a personal space (not always!).”

“I like home practice because you can listen to music to vary it. You can inspire people you love, friends and family, by just practising yourself – they engage with yoga by the smell of the incense, the glow of candles and the calmness of the space.”

strathpeffer-july-15“I have found that yoga has helped me cope with the stiffness and muscular discomfort that has now become a part of my life.  There is no doubt that the morning after a session in the studio I feel less tightness and pain. The mornings are bad for me, having tightened up overnight and having been sleep deprived because of it.  I have to pace myself during the day so I do stretching exercises in bed then stretch and balance when I get up, then I walk with my dog for an hour, then throughout the day I fit in a few minutes of downward dog and triangle poses, etc. Then another hour’s dog walk in the afternoons. Downward dog at the sink while doing the vegetables, balance when brushing my teeth and more stretching when I get into bed! I know this is not conventional practice but it does help prevent the stiffness throughout the day. Evenings are an area I will have to address as when I sit for long my hips just close up. So I get up and down like a jack in the box if I can.”

“When you do a home practice, you can take it everywhere with you – your home, a friend’s house, on holiday, out on the shore at sunset, on the Meadows in Edinburgh to escape the Festival crowds…just to return to your Self.”

“I do yoga at home because along with walking, it’s my favourite form of exercise. I want to do it more than just the once a week class. I like it because I can choose to do only 5 or 10 minutes or 30 minutes. I like practising the poses I enjoy as well as maybe 1 or 2 new or more challenging ones we’ve done in the class. I like my home yoga practice because it’s a good antidote to sitting at my desk, it’s easy to roll out my mat and do it and I always feel better mentally and physically after I’ve done it.”

“I do yoga at home to wake myself up, get blood flowing to all parts of my body, keep my spine in shape (hopefully to avoid more disc problems in future), to start the day well and to reduce stress.”

“Yoga makes me physically and psychologically feel better thus more able to deal calmly with life’s general fast pace & its never ending ups and downs. Regular yoga practise helps staffin-sept-15-3address stiffness (I would go as far as saying it keeps stiffness at bay but each individual is different); improves weakness in joints and muscles e.g. ‘frozen shoulder’, stiff hips, sore knee; increases flexibility, e.g. you can more easily stretch to open high kitchen cupboards; improves balance thus increases confidence lost as part of the ageing process, e.g. stops wobbling and fear when crossing burns; helps build stamina, e.g. by holding simple poses for an increasingly longer time; helps build strength in various areas of your body so your walking ability (duration) and other physical activities benefit; helps maintain a steady weight, e.g. regular practise tones muscles; general health is improved, e.g. better resistance to lurgies & if you do get one it is nowhere near as drastic as pre-yoga days!;  overall fitness improves, e.g. I can again lift 15kg bags of animal feed.”

“Since taking up yoga regularly I now very rarely take medication for an acid/reflux stomach. Yoga enables you to take responsibility and control of your daily physical (and mental) well-being; it helps you to be as good as you can be whatever your age.”

“I practise yoga at home to do something nice for my body, which I tend to dislike for letting me down by being ill all the time.  I do it to help me stay supple and strong – and for the upstairs-yoga-aug-15longer term, to be strong with good feet, hips, and back when I’m elderly. To encourage myself to practise, I leave my yoga mat lying out in the living room where it is misused by all, including animals!”

“Practising yoga has developed my flexibility, focus and reaction times. It also helps put issues into perspective so they stop being alarming; at times of stress or high anxiety basic yoga breathing such as focusing on counting your breath, in for say 4 and out for 4, has a wonderful calming and focusing effect. I was near hyperventilating due to an intense emotional situation earlier this year and used the breathing whilst on a train journey and it worked a treat. Yoga feeds your sense of positivity thus helps your happiness levels; as you feel fitter you are more motivated to do more thus feel more positive – a virtual circle of positivity! Holding and focusing on yoga poses even for a few breaths has a knock on effect of increasing focus in other areas of your life, such as improved concentration when working on various tasks; and yoga teaches you it’s ok to accept your limitations. Finally, it’s great fun wobbling about on one leg with arms crossed in a pose you may never master but that’s ok as it’s not about yoga perfection but what is right for you.”

“I practise yoga at home to slow down and breathe, to have some time for myself, to reconnect with all the small muscles and to stretch.”

So, there we have it. If you’ve not tried doing yoga at home before, I hope this post might inspire you to give it a go (see my last post for tips on how to establish a home practice). If you already do yoga at home and would like to add your reasons to the list, please put them in the comments below – I’d love to read them!

Nb – the pics in this post are mostly from towards the end of some of my own personal practice sessions. Obviously I don’t usually have a photographer on standby while I practise yoga – ugh! But every so often I ask my husband to take a pic, sometimes so I can see my alignment in a particular pose and sometimes because I need a photo to illustrate something. 

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | August 21, 2016

Developing a personal yoga practice

What is a personal yoga practice? Who can do it? How do you go about developing a home practice?

After a certain amount of time attending yoga classes, many people start asking themselves these questions. Of course, there are others who are more than happy to keep yoga as something they are taught, in a group, usually once a week.  Which is fine. There are also people who practise yoga at home right from the start without thinking twice about it – maybe even before they’ve been to a single class. And that’s also fine. This post, though, is for the people who are intrigued by the idea of doing yoga outside a taught environment, but feel unsure how to go about it.

Yoga in Borve garden

A home practice can be outside too…about once a year, if you live in Skye!

Personally, I liked the idea of doing yoga myself at home from a young age.  I was never too worried about what to do: in those pre-YouTube times I simply bought a few books and worked from them.  And I was never worried about doing it ‘wrong’ or hurting myself, because I’d been to a lot of classes before the urge to practise at home arose, and I also knew I wasn’t the type to force my body into anything too ambitious.  But I really struggled with creating the time and space to develop a consistent practice.  I would do yoga at home for a while, sometimes daily, but it was difficult simply to make myself start, even though I knew I always felt better for it afterwards.  I came up with endless excuses to procrastinate (too busy, back too sore, too tired to get up this early today, too full of food, not enough space in this room, got-this-one-thing-I-really-have-to-finish-first…) and I spent literally years in an ‘off & on’ relationship with yoga classes and home practice.

What changed things for me was firstly I moved to an area with very little yoga – one great teacher, but her two classes were not on all year round and I couldn’t always make it on the evenings that classes did run.  Secondly, going through a number of stressful events (moving, changing career, undergoing emergency major surgery, renovating a house, ending a 9 year relationship) in the course of a year, along with working very long hours for years, led to a clear warning from my body that I had to look after my physical and emotional well-being better than I was.  In 2008 my back ‘went’ really badly and I decided I had to find ways of reducing my working hours a bit and making yoga a more consistent part of my life.  I wanted yoga to feel as routine, necessary and positive a part of my day as brushing my teeth or showering. With hindsight, I can see I set my intention then, but it took a few more years to find the way (and courage) to go about it.

There are lots of valid ways to develop a home practice. Personally, I decided I needed the support of a more in-depth experience of yoga, and took Yoga Scotland’s Foundation course. Helen Redfern says of developing a home practice ‘WARNING: this may completely revolutionise your whole life!’ and that was the case for me – I originally had no intention of teaching yoga, let alone becoming a full-time yoga and pilates teacher, but five years later, here I am!

Yoga room Jul 16

‘Legs up the wall’ pose 

What if you want to do yoga at home but don’t have the time, money or inclination to go on a workshop, retreat or course? Browse around the internet; chat to your yoga teacher; ask others who do yoga what works for them; find an app, online teacher or book you enjoy…Experiment with different lengths of practice and doing yoga at different times of day. People often assume you have to get up really early to do yoga at home, but that certainly doesn’t work for everyone. Try other slots of the day/evening. Tell yourself you’re going to do just ten minutes at first – begin with a gentle warm up (such as shoulder rolls, side stretches, hip circles, etc.) then only one pose which you know well and enjoy. Don’t be over-ambitious and plan to do an hour’s session which you then find you can’t squeeze in, or feel too tired to do; or one which contains physically challenging poses you’ve not had much experience of. Decide you’re going to do yoga on a number of days that seems manageable – perhaps two or three times a week, rather than daily. Remember that a beneficial home practice could be as simple as lying in a restorative pose such as Viparita Karani/Legs up the wall or the classic relaxation pose Savasana, maybe listening to a favourite calming piece of music. Get together with friends to do yoga from a DVD or CD. And crucially, don’t be hard on yourself or give up on the idea if your practice is as ‘off & on’ as mine was!

Here in Borve, we’ve recently finished a personal practice fortnight.  I was aware several people in my classes were keen to do yoga at home, and well able to do so, having been regularly coming to classes for a couple of years or more – but perhaps were needing a bit more support or encouragement in how to go about this. I myself do a personal yoga practice at least five days a week. However, the duration and timing of my practice is still all over the place (generally it’s from 20 to 90 minutes, any time between 9am and 7pm) and I thought it would be fun and interesting to commit to exactly the same slot for a fortnight. So I emailed all my yoga contacts inviting them to join me any day Mon-Fri 8.15-9am for a personal practice in the Borve yoga room. I told people they could come to as many or few sessions as they wished, staying for the full 45 minutes or a shorter session; they didn’t have to tell me in advance whether they were coming; and they could take inspiration from whatever I happened to be doing, use the books in the yoga room, or do their own things entirely. The only requirements were to be willing to give it a go, bring their yoga mat, and if they felt like it, to donate their loose change into a local charity’s collection can which I’d leave outside the yoga room door.

So how did it go?

It was a brave step for those who came, and for me too – it was quite hard in advance to reassure myself that if no-one showed up at all, it wasn’t personal, and I’d still benefit from the experiment! I had imagined there would be some mornings with nobody, some with maybe 4 or 5 people, some folk would come just once and some would come several times. As it turned out, around ten people responded to my invitation saying it was a great idea and they would have loved to come, but couldn’t make that time of day due to work/family commitments. A few people told me subsequently they participated without physically being there, by doing some regular practice at home at a time which suited them better, which I thought was a lovely idea! Actually in Borve, one person came once when he had a day off, and two people came to nearly every session. Feedback from them at the end of the fortnight was that it had been interesting and worthwhile, and given them confidence they knew more yoga than they’d realised. At the start they’d imagined they would ‘run out of yoga’ long before the 45 minutes were up, but by the end of the fortnight, they found the full session passed quickly. Two of us loved the way getting organised to do yoga first thing felt – both as a way of starting the day and for its impact on the rest of the day. Some of us are going to try to keep it up, though I’ve emphasised that ‘backsliding’ is a normal part of establishing new habits, and we’re not to be harsh with ourselves if it takes time to embed! As a final feel-good factor, between only four of us, our loose change raised more than £50 for a local charity.

I’ll definitely do something similar again; I feel my practice benefited from it as did that of a few people who were ready to take the step into personal practice – and it has also planted a seed about the possibility of doing yoga at home into others’ minds.

If you fancy developing a home practice yourself, here’s some easy reading to get you started:

The blog Yoga for Healthy Aging regularly has sound advice about all aspects of yoga, including doing it at home.  In Practice as many as you can, Nina Zolotow points out we shouldn’t be so worried about doing it ‘right’ as many of the world-renowned 20th century yoga teachers were constantly innovating and modifying their practice.

Helen Redfern’s 10 steps to get your personal practice started on the Yogamatters blog contains lots of useful advice.  I am less keen on the implication your teacher should tell you whether and when you are ready to practise at home. As long as you stick with simple, gentle poses you feel confident with (as outlined above) you should be fine. Though I’d agree with her that it’s good to get advice from teachers or friends who have more yoga experience.

Ekhart Yoga also have several posts on personal practice, including Esther’s own post with 8 tips on doing yoga at home, including how to stay safe and prevent injury. She’s also recently listed 5 poses you can sneak into your daily off-mat routine when a dedicated practice session feels impossible.

Most of all…however you do it, enjoy your yoga!

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