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!

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | May 15, 2016

Classes this summer

Hello everyone,

I’m updating this post today (5th August) as so much has changed since the last version I wrote a month ago!  It’s been a busy summer for me, full of interesting yoga- and pilates-related work.

My Fingal Centre pilates class (Friday 5.15-6.15pm) continues every week as usual. There are often spaces available at this time of year.  To book these or other Fingal Centre pilates classes, please contact the Centre direct (details at the ‘Pilates’ tab here on my website).

I run a weekend yoga session every month or two. If you’d be interested in coming to weekend yoga sessions or have requests or suggestions for future weekend workshops, please do get in touch. The next weekend yoga session is this Sunday, 7th August. It costs £10 and will be in Edinbane Hall from 2.30-4.30pm.  The maximum class size is 12 people and there are currently four spaces still available.  The August session will be suitable for beginners as well as the more experienced.  The focus will be on flowing gently in and out of variations of a range of poses, rather than long holds.

This fortnight I’ve also been running drop in yoga practice sessions every weekday morning. Everyone is welcome, just bring your yoga mat and some spare change: there is no charge for these drop in sessions, but donations of any size for Skye & Lochalsh Young Carers will be gratefully received.  Please note these are not taught classes – I do my own yoga practice and you are welcome to take inspiration from what I’m doing, or do your own thing entirely.  Come along to one (or more!) of the second week’s sessions: Borve, 8.15-9am, every day Mon 8th-Fri 12th inclusive.

There is a new tab on my website, ‘Prenatal’, with information about yoga for pregnancy. The 6 week course starting Tues 16th August is fully booked, but I am taking a note of anyone interested in being a ‘reserve’ for short notice places on the course – and if there is enough interest, I will try to set up a second prenatal yoga group.

General classes also resume mid-August.  The timetable for August and September is at the ‘Weekly classes’ tab on this website.  As you will see, there are only limited spaces available now in classes.  However, there are always last minute cancellations, which I post on the Yoga in Borve facebook page the day before classes. You can check there to see if there’s space in any particular class, then email or call me to let me know if you want to come.

I look forward to doing yoga or pilates with you soon!

Best wishes,


Posted by: Yoga in Borve | July 27, 2015

Book review: ‘Keep your joints young’

Time for the next post in my series of yoga book reviews! People in my classes often ask about resources to support them doing yoga at home, so I’m (slowly) working my way through a growing mini-library of potentially suitable books. You can see my previous book reviews here and here.

Sarah Key’s Keep your joints young: Banish your aches, pains and creaky joints is not, strictly speaking, a yoga book.  Sarah Key is a senior physiotherapist who works between Australia and the UK (she is physio to the Royal Family) and is the best-selling author of The Back Sufferer’s Bible.  Key is, though, a big fan of yoga, and if you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you’ll recognise many of the exercises recommended in Keep your joints young. She describes them herself as ‘a series of yoga exercises to help restore full mobility to your joints’ (2006: 14).

This book is not what I expected when I ordered it online. I was looking for straightforward books providing simple practices people could do at home. I assumed (on the basis of a few reviews I read) that Key’s book would be a short practical manual of joint exercises. It does indeed contain such exercises, but there is a lot of other information too (250 pages of it). I found it really interesting, as I’m increasingly fascinated by anatomy, but it might be a bit much for anyone who was just looking for an exercise routine. However, if you want to know how your joints work and how to look after them, it’s well worth reading – and will give you new levels of gratitude and appreciation for any of your joints which are currently doing their job properly!

Keep your joints young has ten chapters, one each for your low back, thoracic spine, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and feet. Each chapter is clearly structured following exactly the same format. To take an example at random, ‘Your knees’ begins with ‘What is your knee?’, a section explaining the structure of the knee joint. The chapter then goes on to ‘How does your knee work?’, ‘What are the accessory movements of the knee?’, ‘How do knees go wrong?’, ‘The common disorders of the knees’ and finally ‘What can you do about it?’ This last section of each chapter gives specific exercises for the joint under discussion, divided into Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced levels. At the end of the book is Key’s 30 minute daily regime, for those without specific problems who want to keep all their joints in good working order. You can, of course, add into this daily regime other exercises from the ends of each chapter, if you have any particular joints which need a bit more attention.

I’ve worked my way through nearly all of the exercises in Key’s book then done the daily regime over the course of a week. So, what’s my verdict?

Firstly, Sarah Key has a prop called a BackBlock, used in one of the key daily exercises, which is available for purchase at the back of the book or via her website. It’s expensive and seems similar to the (much cheaper) yoga block I used instead – so I wouldn’t rush to buy a BackBlock. Key herself suggests that a stack of books can be used instead of the BackBlock.

forearm twist

Forearm twist

As for the exercises: many of these I was familiar with from yoga and pilates, but some were new to me, or a new variation on a familiar theme.  Some felt effective but uncomfortable to say the least – for example, the deceptively straightforward looking ‘forearm twist’ in the Advanced section of elbow exercises.

This will vary a lot from person to person, though, depending on your proportions, fitness, flexibility, history of injury, and so forth. I can think of several people I know who would balk at the Beginners exercise ‘Walking on the knees’ but some of them would probably manage the Intermediate knee exercises. To take another example, Key’s Advanced hip stretch ‘floor lunge’ is

Floor lunge

Floor lunge

what I know as ‘pigeon prep’ in yoga.  These days I find it easy and lovely, whereas many people I know find it tough to impossible. On the other hand, although I’ve done yoga for more than a quarter century, I’m not comfy in any variations of Plough, whereas many beginners take to it almost straight away.  So – it’s crucial to proceed at a pace appropriate to yourself.

Overall, there are many effective exercises in the book but my reservation is if you are new to these types of exercise, it could be hard to tell if you’re doing it right. For example, the Shoulder Hang was completely new to me, and I couldn’t see what I was doing whilst in it, but knew I didn’t seem to be feeling it in the areas Key had said I would. I ended up wishing I had a

Shoulder hang

Shoulder hang

physio there to advise me. Also, I know I err on the side of caution, but there are a few exercises included which I personally wouldn’t recommend newbies to try without the supervision of an experienced teacher (i.e. Plough, Plough extender, Headstand, Handstand).

I notice physios and osteopaths are often quite relaxed about working through discomfort, sometimes stating this is necessary in order to restore proper joint function. Depending on your personality and your experience of yoga, physiotherapy, etc. you might be able to judge how much and what kind of pain is good pain…but what if you can’t? The BackBlock, Knees rocking and Reverse curl-ups sequence is great, but years ago when I had back problems, I think I’d have been apprehensive about doing it. Reading parts of the instructions – ‘It should not be agony but it should feel as though it means business […] After 60 seconds, or less if you cannot tolerate it,… […] It always hurts to raise your bottom off the BackBlock. Don’t be fazed by this: the longer you have been lying there the more it will hurt to lift off’ (p233) – would not have encouraged me. I’d have wanted Sarah Key at my side reassuring me I was doing it right and my back wasn’t about to go into spasm!

If you are fairly new to exercise, it’s particularly important to read this book thoroughly and work through the exercises gradually over a period of time. Key says herself ‘you must follow them carefully and slowly, knowing your own limits. It is better to do just a few exercises properly than rush through the whole set badly’ (p14).  If you have injuries or other joint issues, I’d suggest showing the book to your own physiotherapist/osteopath, who might have recommendations for you, or simply be able to observe and guide you the first time you try some of the trickier exercises.

I don’t want to sound like I don’t approve of the book – I found it fascinating and I will definitely draw on it for my own personal practice and in my classes. Just remember not to be too gung-ho with your pain barriers if you’re trying it at home!

I’ll finish with an extended quote from Sarah Key (pp12-13), to give you a flavour of her writing style and her take on yoga:

‘…yoga not only stretches your body, it involves discipline, meditation, breathing control, elevated states of mental awareness and so on. Perhaps not all those avenues are readily accessible to the hurried habits of Westerners, but each of us has something to gain from its practice. Apart from the centring and rarified sessions of inner stillness, the supreme gift of yoga is its physical prowess; quite simply, its ability to restore accessory movements to the joints. The fruits of yoga are plucked along the way, on the journey, not the destination. This simple tenet is readily misunderstood by yoga’s dismissive band of doubters. There are also people who say “It hurt too much so I didn’t think I should do it” or, “I’ve never been able to touch my toes”. But yoga is the most simple and effective way of keeping the joints apart, of keeping them young. There is no great value in reaching the destination, no great value in reaching your toes. The value lies in the process of getting there and this is where we can get it wrong. By concentrating upon point scoring, getting the goal, end-gaining for the sake of it, we fail to appreciate the subtlety of our bodies opening out en route, the little improvements along the way, feeling looser in your own skin, feeling lighter and, yes, feeling younger.’


Posted by: Yoga in Borve | June 18, 2015

Comfortable and steady? Sports bras for yoga and pilates

I’ve been noticing the rise of the ‘yoga bra’ in recent years.  I suppose this is an inevitable part of the explosion in yoga merchandise which has come with yoga’s increasing popularity – but why does ‘yoga bra’ appear to be synonymous with ‘pretty and flimsy’?  Most of them look as if they’d only be sufficiently comfortable and supportive if you were a 20 year old who wears an A cup.

Have a read of this fascinating BBC article about the history of the sports bra, which has inspired today’s post.  While I’m glad we’re out of the eras where ‘choice’ meant have a mastectomy, bind your bust with elastic, or wear two jockstraps sewn together, when there’s so much choice, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Sure, yoga and pilates are not high impact like running or playing squash.  I have a Shock Absorber Ultimate Run bra I’d wear for zumba or running, but it is (uncomfortable) overkill for yoga and pilates.  However, there are certainly some poses, sequences and styles of yoga and pilates in which inadequate support could damage your Cooper ligaments and/or lead to breast pain.

For yoga and pilates, I’d recommend a bra which is comfortable (which for me means no wires) and allows no feeling of ‘bounce’ when doing your most vigorous poses (for example, a Sun Salutation sequence).  You spend a lot of time working from a supine position, particularly in pilates, so you don’t want fastenings or strap adjusters at the back which will dig in.  I’d also recommend trying on several different sizes in many different styles – it’s worth being patient, and it’s worth paying a bit more for a quality bra that really fits and supports you well.

These are the three best I’ve found so far, but bear in mind that what works for my body shape might not be right for yours.  If you have other recommendations, please do add them in the comments box on this post, or on the Yoga in Borve facebook page.

1) My go-to yoga bra for decades has been the Dans-ez Minimal Bounce Bra.

Minimal Bounce BraMinimal Bounce Bra

The MBB is very comfortable, with a nice cotton rather than synthetic feel against the skin.  It lasts well and provides good coverage – no chance of someone else in your yoga class seeing right down your cleavage to your belly button.  Another plus for me is the normal vest style back, as I find racer back bras a hassle to get on and off.  When I was in my twenties, I thought of the Minimal Bounce Bra as an expensive but worthwhile purchase, but now £22.95 seems pretty good value compared to many sports bras.  The downside of the MBB is that it comes only in sizes S, M, L, etc.  So if you are either broad backed with a small cup size, or narrow backed with a larger cup size, finding a good fit could be an issue.  When I was younger, I wore Medium and found it supportive enough for aerobics and dance as well as yoga.  Now Medium is too small for me, so I wear Large, which is fine for yoga and pilates but wouldn’t provide enough support for higher impact sports.

2) Next up is Sweaty Betty’s Stamina Sports Bra.  Since I qualified as a yoga and pilates teacher and decided I should spend a bit more on the function and fit of clothes I’m wearing all day every day to practise and teach in, I’ve found Sweaty Betty’s products good quality and comfortable.  Their sizing, though, is rather odd – I have clothes from them which fit me perfectly in sizes XS, S and M.  Nearly all their more supportive bras are racerback and despite an assistant trying to tell me I should wear a Small due to my narrow back, when I was trying on a Medium in one style I nearly had to yell for someone to come and cut me out of it.  I managed to get it off eventually without public humiliation or obvious damage to myself or the bra.  But that put me off for a while.  However, SB bras get great customer reviews and when I was finally tempted to try another style at sale price, it fitted really well.  At full price, the Stamina bra is £33.  It comes in a range of funky colours, is nice and high at the front, and doesn’t budge at all while you are moving and stretching.  If you have a narrow back, broad shoulders and a larger cup size, it’s a bit of a struggle taking it off at the end of the day.  But I’ve decided it’s supportive, comfy and stylish enough to be worth it.

view from another angleview from another angle


3)  Finally, Moving Comfort’s Fiona Bra.  Personal trainer and pilates teacher Caroline Swart recently recommended US sports bra company Moving Comfort to me.  They have a wide range of styles, but so far I’ve not found a shop in Scotland which stocks anything like the full range.  I prefer being able to try on and compare in a shop to buying bras online because depending on the style/manufacturer, I can be any combination of 30, 32, or 34 and C, D, or DD.  For local readers, DW Sports at Inverness retail park stock a few Moving Comfort styles in most sizes.  I spent what felt like a year and a half (actually less than an hour) trying them all on and came away with their Fiona style, at a sale price of £20.

Fiona Sports Bra | Moving ComfortFiona Sports Bra | Moving ComfortFiona Sports Bra | Moving Comfort

What’s good about the Fiona bra?  It’s extremely comfortable, does not have a racer back, and comes in bra sizes, rather than S, M, L.  The straps have a genius front adjust system (heavy duty Velcro so no buckles) and the band has a 3 hook-and-eye choice of fastenings at the back.  Unlike many sports bras, it gives you a fairly natural and flattering shape (rather than compression to the point where those with smaller busts appear pancake-flat and those with larger busts have that lovely uniboob look).  I’ve been wearing mine as a ‘normal’ bra as well as when I’m going to pilates classes or doing my own home yoga practice.  So far it’s comfy and secure – no chafing from the fasteners or slipping straps – but I’ve not been quite confident enough to wear it whilst teaching yoga or doing a longer time ‘on the mat’, such as a yoga weekend workshop.

Overall: three great bras for yoga and pilates, keeping you comfy and your Cooper ligaments safe.  I’ve certainly found all three bras worth the price.  The Stamina Bra feels as if it gives the most support, the Fiona gives the most natural silhouette, and the MBB would still be my top choice if I was packing for a week’s intensive yoga retreat somewhere warm (I wish).




  • Sadly, recommendations in this review are entirely my own impartial opinions.  But if any of the above companies would like to provide Yoga in Borve with sponsorship in the form of free bras…
  • For anyone wondering about the title, it’s a play on one of the most frequently quoted Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – ‘sthira sukham asanam’.  Basically: ‘the posture is steady and comfortable’ (sthira = steady, stable, motionless; sukha = comfortable, at ease, relaxed; asana = yoga pose or posture, but originally referring to a seated meditation posture).





Posted by: Yoga in Borve | May 29, 2015

Cast your vote!

It’s been a very busy 18 months for me, so I’ve taken the decision to prioritise yoga and pilates teaching after the summer break.  I’m excited to be able to offer more classes, and now is a great time to contact me if you have any suggestions.

Yoga room in Borve

Borve yoga room, for classes of 1-6

Many Skye classes experience a drop in numbers from May to September, as it’s a busy time of year for local residents.  However, I’ve had a lot of requests to continue for more of the summer, so I’m going to give it a try.  The next block of classes runs till the start of July, then I’m taking a break from teaching until classes resume at the beginning of August.

washing yoga mats

July: mat washing month

Here’s my draft timetable from August onwards.  It’s a work in progress, so feedback is welcome in the comments box below, via Facebook or email, or next time you see me.



  • 1.30-3pm Yoga class in Edinbane (general/open level, max 12 people).

Tuesdays Classes in Borve (max 6 people per class).

  • 2.45-3.45pm Slot available for private sessions or ‘pop up’ classes/short blocks (e.g. Pilates new beginners course, Yoga new beginners course).  This slot could potentially be at a different time to suit those with children in school, e.g. 2-3pm or 9.15-10.15am.
  • 4.15-5.15pm Pilates class.


  • Afternoon/evening Yoga class in Borve (2+ years’ experience, max 6 people).  Let me know your preference out of these possible times: 4.30-6pm; 5-6.30pm; 5.15-6.45pm; 5.30-7pm; 7-8.30pm.


  • 2.15-3.15pm Slot available for private sessions (or 2-3pm to suit those with childcare responsibilities).
  • 3.55-4.55pm Already reserved for a regular weekly private group Yoga session.


  • 10.15-11.45am Yoga class in Portree (general/open level, max 15 people)
  • 5.15-6.15pm Pilates class in Fingal Centre, Portree.

Saturdays This is a tricky one – people often say they’d like a Saturday class, but in practice life gets in the way and attendance can be erratic.  I am considering a Yoga class in Borve (either 10.15-11.45am or 10.30-11.30am), which could move to the hall in Portree if demand was higher than the 6 max possible in Borve.  Alternatively, this could be a slot for occasional sessions focusing on particular aspects of Yoga, or ‘pop up courses’ like the Tuesday afternoon slot.  I also like the idea of having occasional workshop days at a venue where we can have lunch together; which could include inviting other yoga, pilates, meditation and dance teachers from around Skye to contribute to the day/theme.


I will also have some availability for one-off private daytime tuition sessions on Tues, Wed and Thurs mornings. I’ll be finalising my timetable before the end of June, so those who like to book in advance for blocks starting in August are able to do this before the July break.  So now’s the time to let me know your ideas and preferences for yoga and pilates options from August onwards!

Posted by: Yoga in Borve | December 29, 2014

Yoga book review: ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’

Yoga for healthy lower backs cover photo‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’ by Alison Trewhela and Anna Semlyen is a very different style of book to the similar title by Liz Owen featured in my last yoga book review.

Trewhela and Semlyen’s book is much shorter and will probably appeal to a wider range of readers looking for some simple yoga routines to do at home.

That said, it was originally written as a manual to accompany a 12 week block of yoga classes for beginning yoga students who suffered chronic low back pain.  The authors recommend strongly that to gain maximum benefit from the book you seek out a trained teacher via the Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs website.

The course and manual were developed for a large scientific trial investigating the effectiveness of yoga for treating back pain.  You can find out more about the study at the website link in the last paragraph, or if you’re in the mood for a proper academic journal write-up, you can read all about it in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

I have read Trewhela and Semlyen’s book and worked through all the exercises in the sequences suggested.  I’d certainly be interested in attending the training course for yoga teachers – but I’m not eligible, because you have to have a minimum of four years’ post-qualifying yoga teaching experience before you can apply.

I understand why the organisers have set this requirement: they want to keep the experience of ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’ 12 week courses at a consistently high standard, adhering to the conditions of the original evidence-based research.

I’ve worked as a university researcher myself and I live in a family of scientists.  I really care about quality yoga teaching and rigorous evidence.

On the other hand, it’s a shame – because the reality is there are currently only seven yoga teachers in Scotland listed on their register, all of whom live hundreds of miles from those of us here in the north of Skye.  And more than that, I already regularly have people with back pain issues coming to my yoga classes because health professionals (usually physiotherapists and GPs) are recommending they do yoga with me.  So I want to be doing the best I can now, not in five years’ time!  However, I notice Anna Semlyen does teach occasional one-day ‘taster’ workshops open to any yoga teachers, and I’ll look into when and where these are going to be run next year.

I’m sure I’d learn a lot from the workshop and even more from the course, but it should also be said that the book is quite clear and accessible. Yoga for healthy lower backs - contents I reckon in the quarter century I’ve been doing yoga, I’ve come across 90%+ of the exercises and poses in the manual.  I already teach an awful lot of them, and as far as I can tell from the book, I teach them in a similar way (in terms of things to watch out for, modifications, etc.).

So my conclusion is – don’t be put off this book if you live too far away from the nearest ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’ course/teacher.  Also, don’t feel it would only be appropriate for you if you have a chronic back condition: I think this would be a useful little book for anyone seeking to do some gentle yoga at home.  Perhaps you go to a class but don’t yet have the confidence to try some of the more physically challenging poses at home.  Maybe you don’t have the energy for a physically demanding home practice, but want to do some yoga most days to stretch out and relax.  It’s never a good idea to assume that apparently gentle poses are ineffective or ‘not enough’ for you!  Yoga can be subtle yet profound in its impact.  Personally, I enjoyed and felt the benefit of working through the sequences in the book.   They were just right for how I’ve been feeling over the last while, as I’ve been resting up with bronchitis.  Although my own back is fine these days, a lot of sitting and lying around can make it very stiff, so it was lovely to guard against any potential problems with the programme in ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’.

If any local yogis would like to borrow my copy to see what they think, let me know!

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