Posted by: Yoga in Borve | April 2, 2018

Developing a meditation practice

Throughout 2017, I was working on developing a more consistent meditation practice. Why? How? And how did it go? Read on to find out…

Image result for before and after yoga cartoon

Cartoon by Gemma Correll

Why meditate?

Meditation is a part of yoga – a very significant part. Currently in the UK, most of us use the term ‘yoga’ as shorthand for the physical poses of yoga, known as the asana (e.g. Triangle Pose is Trikonasana, Boat Pose is Navasana, Child Pose is Balasana, and so on). But these are only one small aspect of yoga. In most general yoga classes in the UK, the bulk of the time is spent on asana practice, a short time in guided relaxation, and less frequently there’s a bit of pranayama (‘breathing exercises’ such as Nadi Sodhana/Alternate Nostril Breathing). However, the strengthening, stretching, relaxation and breath work are all intended to support the development of calm and focus in meditation. One of the oldest written texts on yoga kicks off with yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ.  If you Google this, you’ll find it’s far more complex and subtle than I can do justice to in a short post, but it’s often translated along the lines of ‘yoga is the process of calming the fluctuations of the mind’.

I’m pretty typical of someone who started yoga in Scotland in the 1980s – I had a bad back, and I was trying to fix myself physically. It’s still the case that many people find their way to my own yoga classes for similar physical reasons (or, at least, perceived as physical – for of course many conditions such as back pain are linked to lifestyle, stress, etc.). Over time I became more interested in the other aspects of yoga. That’s a fairly typical yoga student trajectory these days, too. But I also notice that nowadays the benefits of meditation, breathing, relaxation and stress-reduction techniques in general are more widely known, and some people do come to a yoga class specifically to learn about these. ‘Mindfulness’ has grown to become much more mainstream, and people no longer seem to react to mention of meditation as if it is a weird and possibly religious or cult activity. Again, if you want to know more about the general research into meditation’s benefits, Google is your friend, but here’s one recent short evidence-based article to get you started. Author Dr Matthew Thorpe concludes meditation reduces stress, controls anxiety, promotes emotional health, enhances self-awareness, lengthens attention span, improves sleep, helps control pain…and more. Why wouldn’t you want to meditate?!

My personal experience is regular meditation makes me feel calmer, more resilient and more positive – even though when I’m actually doing it, I feel constantly distracted! This is the case with only rare exceptions – for example, usually towards the end of a week long yoga and meditation retreat I find the constant chatter in my head has calmed down a bit. And that’s a great feeling. However, my personal experience has also been that I’ve found it incredibly hard to get in the habit of meditating regularly.

I started doing the Yoga Scotland Foundation course in 2011 because I wanted to make yoga a regular part of my life – and now it is, much more than I anticipated! A year or so ago it occurred to me that my meditation practice was like my yoga asana practice used to be: I knew I felt better for it, was very erratic in practice, and knew I’d get more benefit if I could make it part of my daily routine, as everyday as brushing my teeth. It was simply a question of working out how…

So how did I do it? And how did it go?

We all tend to feel we’ve got “no time” to do X thing we feel we want to do, or know we should do. In recent years, I’ve tried to catch myself when I realise I’m about to say “I’ve no time to…” (weed the garden, write a blog post, clear out that cupboard  – or whatever it is I conveniently have no time to do) because I’ve noticed everyone who says it, myself and my closest loved ones included, could carve out 5 minutes a day to do something new if we really, really want to (we all have more ‘dead time’ than we think we do. e.g. do you ever watch TV? Netflix? Surf the internet? Scroll through Facebook or Instagram?!). And if you can spend 5 minutes regularly on something, the 5 minutes tends to grow.

I had had previous attempts at building a new habit of daily meditation, generally aiming to do 20 minutes of seated meditation every evening. This had never been super-successful and when I started reading more about meditation at the end of 2016, I realised it would be more realistic for me to commit to a shorter time every day, and do it earlier on, rather than risk leaving it so late I felt 20 minutes simply couldn’t be squeezed in.

In an ideal world, I’d meditate for about 20 minutes before bed in the evening, and I’d also meditate at the end of my personal yoga practice, which I’d do at the same time every morning…but that ain’t going to happen in my current circumstances. So rather than holding out for the ideal and failing to get anywhere at all, I decided I’d do a 15 minute meditation practice every day if possible, any time I could fit it in.

To give myself some structure and the support of like-minded people (as both these things were so helpful when I was doing the Yoga Scotland Foundation course then Teacher Training course), I put a shout out to see if anyone was interested in coming to a group meditation session one evening a month throughout 2017. I held this in the yoga room in Borve, and people took turns to lead the sessions – which was sometimes as simple as keeping an eye on the time for everyone, or reading a quote, and sometimes involved sharing a favourite meditation technique in more depth. While it was quite a lot of work organising the sessions, it definitely did help me keep up a regular daily meditation practice. It was also really interesting to hear more about what worked for different people, and lovely to learn some new styles of meditation and take part in a group session rather than always meditating alone. Four months on, my daily habit of meditation seems pretty well established – as long as I’m at home. Although it would be easy to meditate for 15 minutes a day while I’m away (I mean, you can meditate on a bus and no-one would know you were doing it – so you can certainly meditate in a friend’s spare room or in your holiday cottage) I find I completely forget to do so. Last time I was away for a week, I took mala beads with me so I’d see them every day and it would act as a physical reminder to meditate. And that worked not at all. So, that’s my next step – taking my meditation practice with me wherever I go. If you’ve any suggestions on how to remind myself to do 15 minutes of meditation when I’m away from home, please let me know.


I’ll do another post (and I promise I’ll try to find time to do it soon!) about resources I’ve found useful in developing my meditation practice – from websites, to books, to timers, apps, beads, cushions, kneeling stools and so on. I didn’t want to put the ‘STUFF’ upfront for the same reason I encourage people to come to yoga classes for several months, and use free resources online, before they buy a yoga mat, books, DVDs or any other equipment. The STUFF doesn’t develop the habit for you. Knowing you want to do it, doing it, and gradually working out what might best help you do it – is the way to go. Otherwise you just end up poorer and with a whole lot more unused STUFF gathering dust in your house or ending up in landfill.

And you?

I’m going to forward a link to this post to some of the folk who came to the meditation group, in the hope they may share their own ideas, experience and tips here. If anyone else would also like to share their thoughts below, I’d really enjoy reading them.


Posted by: Yoga in Borve | January 4, 2018

Moving Matters

A slightly longer post this month. So why should you bother to read on? Because it…

…tells you more about how and why I take my yoga ‘off the mat’

…could seriously improve your health and longevity

…summarises and points you in the direction of great resources to help you make positive, achievable changes in your own life

For local readers: I’ve put in a request at Portree Library for the books mentioned in this post (full details of all four books are at the foot of the post). There are already several copies of Hall’s Walkactive book available in Highland for borrowing, and the library is going to look into whether they can acquire copies of the other books.


The longer I do yoga, the more I ‘take it off the mat’ – i.e. connect it up with what I do in the rest of my life, outside of a yoga class setting. I think this is probably the case for all long-term yoga practitioners, and in fact some people (not me!) quickly make the ‘off mat’ connection when they’re pretty new to yoga. It’s also true of aspects of yoga which touch on emotional well-being, and values or philosophy of life, rather than physical self-awareness, alignment, etc. But in today’s post I’m going to focus in on the physical movement.

I mentioned in my last post, Daily Dose of Yoga, that despite having scoliosis and a history of back pain problems, I’ve found I can pretty much avoid back pain altogether as long as I do a bit of walking and yoga-type stretches and movements on a daily basis.

I used to walk loads: twelve years ago when everyone in the school I taught in was given a simple pedometer as part of Healthy Highland Week, I discovered I was clocking over 10,000 steps without thinking about it, every normal day of the week.  But my walking reduced drastically when I moved out of the village (so instead of walking to work and the shops I had to drive), stopped primary teaching (which involves constant movement), got new dogs who need much less exercise than my first dog did, started working from home and at the computer, and began using most of my daily exercise time for yoga and pilates.  The result, particularly in prolonged periods of bad weather and looming writing deadlines, was a daily step count which must have been under 3,000 most days.

Yoga and pilates have been great for me in so many ways – but doing only yoga and pilates (in classes or specific, time-limited practice sessions) is not enough for optimal health. Because it was particularly gruesome weather over Christmas 2016 and the whole family were lying about like slugs, I reached a tipping point where I could feel all the cells in my body screaming BRING BACK WALKING!  The oft-cited 10,000 steps a day for health may be to an extent a rather arbitrary figure, but I reckon human beings are definitely meant to be walking more than most of us do.  I mean, 6,000 steps is only the equivalent of spending one hour out of every 24 on your feet!  I wanted to get moving again, so I clipped on a pedometer and got going. For several months in 2017 I aimed to get over 7,000 steps per day.  I noted the daily tally in my yoga practice journal, and ended up averaging 9,000 a day. Just wearing the pedometer (or downloading a free pedometer app, if you’re the kind of person who always carries your smartphone) makes you more mindful of how much you’re moving and encourages you to walk more. My particular pedometer has a little figure who pops up, arms waving in cheerleader mode, when you hit 10,000 steps. This is just like the ‘rewards’ you get in maths computer games for 8 year olds so I find it amusing that I too feel chuffed every time I see the wee guy going ‘yaaaay!’ for me.

Any time I consistently wear a pedometer and aim to increase and record my daily step count, I notice within a few weeks I feel a bit fresher and more energetic, and also more physically tired, in a good way – I sleep better at nights.  We don’t have scales in the house so I practically never weigh myself, but my trousers get a bit looser round my hips and thighs after a couple of weeks walking briskly and regularly. And if you’re reading this in the Hebrides, please know it made a huge difference to me when I finally invested in good quality waterproof trousers, cagoule, hat, gloves and footwear. If you wait for nice weather to go for a walk here, you’re rarely going to get that step count increased!

Walking matters, but so does how you walk. I’ve known for years I’m anatomically wonky, and that this has implications for my current musculoskeletal health and longer-term wear-and-tear. So I’ve done a bit of looking into how I can minimise the potential effects of my mild spinal curvature and lopsided hips.

The internationally-respected Mayo Clinic says ‘a fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements’:


Image of woman using proper walking technique

If you want more information about this, and a few varied and detailed programmes for increasing the amount and pace at which you walk, and improving the style in which you walk, check out the work of Joanna Hall. When I loaned this book to my mum, I had to say ‘ignore the terrifyingly jolly cover – there’s good stuff inside’. And she agreed. So if you too find the relentlessly cheerful and ultra-slim author photographs off-putting – please give it a go anyway!

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Image credit:

The first time I followed Hall’s walking technique tips, I was impressed and also quite surprised by what I learned.  As a long-term yoga practitioner, I have better proprioception than many people, yet I was almost oblivious to three important aspects of how I was moving:

  • I knew my feet and ankles are quite flexible, and I roll through my feet quite well when I walk.  I knew my right foot is slightly larger than my left. And I’d felt, with all the yoga over the previous few years, my toes had been spreading and lengthening. But I hadn’t noticed my right toes were really squashed up in almost all the shoes I owned! I gave away lots of my shoes that year, and bought ones which fitted better.
  • I knew I sashayed about a bit as I walked, but I’d never noticed that was because my poor wonky left hip was shoogling all over the place, so my left leg was going round and round like a porridge spurtle. I’m structurally lopsided so I can’t completely correct my gait, but becoming aware of this has led to me walking more mindfully and with better alignment.
  • I had a mental image of myself striding along, arms swinging, because that is how I used to walk. The combination of walking a lot less and then in recent years mainly walking with a lead in one or both hands had gradually resulted in the top half of my body becoming almost motionless. A sort of Irish step dancing version of walking. It felt great to get my shoulder girdle moving again.

So – it was an education, and I can only say ‘thank you, Ms Hall’ because by paying attention and learning her techniques, I quickly felt more easy, smooth and energetic as I walked. I revisit her book regularly and some of the techniques suggested in it are almost second nature to me now.

In 2016, I also discovered the work of Katy Bowman. I’ve referenced two of Bowman’s books at the foot of this post, but if you prefer podcasts, a massive blog archive, or Instagram – Google her and you’ll find she has a very active online presence. I first read Whole Body Barefoot, on the recommendation of an excellent yoga teacher who I was training with. I’d noticed Joanna Hall recommended minimal shoes – wide toe boxes, flexible and not too thick soles, and flat – and I learned a lot more about why you might want to transition slowly to this type of footwear by reading Bowman’s book. I’m not going to say a lot about the book here other than when I talk about it in yoga classes, there’s always at least one person says ‘I always wear flat shoes, I never wear heels’ – without realising that the flat shoes or boots they’re wearing that day do in fact have heels. Have a look at your trainers and you might be surprised to find how much the heel is elevated relative to the front of the shoe! I’ve always mostly worn fairly wide and flat shoes and sandals, though many years ago, I used to have a thing for wearing ankle boots with heels to work (until even I in my ignorance noticed it was related to knee and toe pain I was experiencing). Over the last couple of years, I’ve gradually shifted to more genuinely flat (‘zero drop’) shoes and the only downside is my feet are so happy in them it’s become difficult to wear more ‘dressy’ alternatives.

Whole Body Barefoot is a short book which explains how the way we treat our feet impacts on…well, everything to do with posture, alignment and gait. Which can have negative consequences in terms of knee, hip or back pain. There are also great foot, calf, hamstring and balance exercises which you’ll probably recognise from yoga classes. Bowman is a biomechanics and natural movement expert, not a yoga teacher, but a lot of what she recommends chimes well with movements made in yoga. Squats, for example. She’s very keen on squatting. There’s a lot more about squatting, other movements, and other research in her much larger book, Move Your DNA (which also includes the exercises which feature in the much shorter Whole Body Barefoot). Don’t be put off by the size of Move Your DNA, because Bowman has a very readable style. I do find the strength of her convictions occasionally lead to her over-reaching the evidence for some of her claims, but despite this, there’s lots of great stuff in Move Your DNA including a more extensive programme of exercises, many of which you’ll recognise from yoga. She’s also passionate about and good at suggesting ways of building a wider range of healthy natural movement into your normal day-to-day activities, rather than sitting for hours then trying to find the time in a busy life to squeeze in separate sessions of ‘exercise’ such as a fitness class or gym session.

The final book on my list, Designed to Move by Joan Vernikos, was actually recommended by Bowman in a December article suggesting movement-related Christmas gifts to her email subscribers. Dr Vernikos was director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and a pioneer researcher in the physiology of immobility (investigating how lack of movement in gravity affects astronauts and those on Earth who are immobile, e.g. in bed-rest studies). To summarise, space research into astronaut health discovered that ‘Physiological changes in highly fit astronauts in the near-zero gravity of space, or those caused in healthy men and women by continuous sitting or lying in bed, are similar to those in the elderly’. There’s a two page table of the sort of changes they mean – you can probably guess some of them – decreased muscle mass, arterial stiffness, decreased brain blood flow, slower movement and reaction times, increased body fat, lower bone density….etc. etc.

This is a small book and the first 80 pages or so are dedicated to explaining the research and evidence which underpins the message that sitting still for hours a day is seriously bad for human beings. Even if you also do an hour’s vigorous exercise a day, this doesn’t counter the negative effects of long periods sitting still. Whereas, building in some simple changes of habit – even as simple as standing up every half hour for a minute of stretching tall or walking around, then sitting back down again – can have a huge positive impact on your health and well-being over the longer term. The remainder of the book, pp85-111, focuses on these simple activities, habits and movements which you can build into your life to counter the pernicious effects of sitting still for long periods (at your work desk, in the car, on the sofa in front of the TV, etc.).

Although it’s a slim book, I feel it could have been slimmer with the work of a good editor. It is well-written in that the grammar, spelling and so on are fine, and it’s a clear read. However, there is a lot of repetition, which I found quite irritating. It’s as if Vernikos has delivered her profound, evidence-based yet essentially simple message so many times that she’s lost sight of whether’s she’s explaining things in the right order and whether she’s repeating herself within this one book – and no editor has dealt with it. To take one example, the exact same University sit-&-rise-from-a-chair test (which is really interesting, and fun to do!) is described twice, once on p54 then again on p85. There’s also a diagram on p9 using terms such as Gz and Gx, but these gravity science terms aren’t properly explained until pp61-62. And lots of repetition of the advice to GET UP OUT YOUR CHAIR AT LEAST EVERY HALF HOUR. I guess it must be very frustrating to know there’s this simple thing which people can do to make themselves healthier and happier, but they’re just not doing it… Despite this, I do recommend you read through the whole book – and probably read from p85 until the end a couple of times, noting down any and all of her tips which you could build into your daily life. It takes time to make even simple changes, so it might be worth pinning a short list of moves as a reminder in the places you need them – such as by the TV or computer screen.

If you’ve got this far, congratulations! And also, it’s time for you to stand up and move 😉 I hope I’ve inspired you to look into these resources a little more. Or even if you don’t want to read more about it – simply to time your sitting, to ensure you stand up and move a little every half hour. Or next time you arrive early at my yoga classes, get out of your car and go for a short walk – it’s a great warm up for yoga, and so much nicer for your body than sitting for even longer in the driving seat.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to stand up to do another stretch and squat break now…

Books reviewed in this post – ask at Portree Library if they are on the shelves yet, and if not, you can borrow mine!

  • Katy Bowman, ‘Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement’, Lotus, 2014.
  • Katy Bowman, ‘Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well To Minimal Footwear’, Propriometrics Press, 2015.
  • Joanna Hall, ‘Walkactive Programme: The Simple Yet Revolutionary Way To Transform Your Body, For Life’, Piatkus, 2013.
  • Joan Vernikos, ‘Designed To Move: The Science-backed Program To Fight Sitting Disease & Enjoy Lifelong Health’, Quill Driver Books 2016



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!


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