How does Cathy teach?
For me, yoga is firstly about the mind/body connection, as well as good physical alignment in the postures. We build from a strong foundation of equally balancing strength, flexibility and mental focus.
Rebalancing unnatural or unhealthy movement and postural habits, restoring the natural physical balance and removing stress points all form part of my yoga offering.
I teach with generosity of spirit, kindness and compassion. I want the people who attend my classes to leave feeling better than when they arrived. I give clear instructions and demonstrate every pose, but I also spend a lot of time working hands-on with my students, assisting with adjustments to help every individual achieve their goal.
Good alignment and physical posture avoids injuries and gives a solid foundation for future practice, which is what I want my students to enjoy. I explain the physical benefits of each posture, which muscles are involved and what the physical benefits would be.
I also respect the varying levels of proficiency in mixed-ability classes by giving options that allow beginners to find comfort whilst giving more experienced yogis a chance to extend their practice. My classes are well-paced but not frenetic, calming and sometimes meditative. Students ask questions or laugh during the class, and we communicate with each other. Sometimes I use music to enhance the atmosphere, and I like to match the pace of the vinyasas to the music to make things fun and light.
The biggest compliment, for me and any yoga teacher, is when people are a bit spaced out after final relaxation. It’s even better if they nod off! My classes aim to push the boundaries whilst finding calm and quiet, making space for personal reflection and cognitive acceptance of what is, and moving forward positively.
What is yoga, really?
Yoga is one of the most misunderstood physical disciplines ever! “I am not flexible enough for yoga” and “I already have a faith” are only 2 of the common misconceptions I come across. There are many others, but they all boil down to this: There is a general perception that yoga is some form of religious practise for people who smoke funny things and chant “Ohm”. Or that yoga is only for super flexible people who fast for weeks on end and bend their bodies in pretzel-like shapes.
In fact, true yoga is what you want to make of it. It is about finding a connection between the mind and the body. (Chanting “Ohm” helps with this!)
Once that connection is made, yoga provides a means of quieting the natural turbulence of thoughts and restlessness that assails human beings. It helps us to find a quiet place of calm and peace inside ourselves, allowing us to know ourselves better and giving us the ability to develop our own coping mechanisms against the emotional, mental and spiritual onslaughts of life.
Yoga is like a deep lake that allows anyone to dive in and immerse themselves, whilst those who prefer to paddle and splash at the shallow end gets the same satisfaction, in their own way.
How can yoga help me?
You are your own best yoga teacher. The trained person at the front is only a facilitator, helping you to achieve your own goals. Every person who walks into a yoga class is on his or her own journey. Yoga is good for so many things: Improving the general physical condition, stretching muscles that have been over-exercised, releasing muscles which are cramped with stress. It is an age-old science that involves the holistic being – Your body, mind and spirit are all equally involved in a yoga practice. It promotes calm, quiet confidence, peaceful acceptance and a mindful presence. A consistent yoga practice will help you lose weight, improve general fitness and well-being, and improve a run-down immune system. As a stress management practice, yoga will help redefine self-talk and provide coping mechanisms for the physical symptoms. Most of all, it will give you a moment of peace to recalibrate, rediscover yourself and put life into perspective.
What to expect in a yoga class
Don’t expect anything! People who walk into a yoga class with few expectations seem to have a better experience than those who have high expectations. As all things in life, yoga is what you make it. So if you attend a yoga class for the first time, or if you have taken 1,000 classes, having a beginner’s mind and a receptive attitude will allow you to calibrate each experience individually.
Yoga is practiced barefoot to allow a strong connection with the mat. Most yoga teachers provide mats, but it’s also nice to have your own. Always take water, and perhaps a towel as you will most likely get a bit sweaty. It is also a good idea to take socks and something warm (Even a blanket!) to keep you cuddly during relaxation.
The practice of yoga consists of a huge library of postures or asanas. Depending on the style of yoga of your class, the pace may be quite quick and energetic, or it can be slow and restorative. A typical yoga class will start and end with a luscious relaxation period.
The class will start gently to warm the body up, and then escalate into more dynamic poses or series (Vinyasas) that can include sitting, standing, lying down, kneeling and balancing or even inversions. There is always a slower cooling down period at the end, before final relaxation.
Depending on the teaching style, the teacher may help you with alignment or balance problems through hands-on adjustments. This may take the form of pressure with the hands, showing you through demonstration what to do or perhaps even using their own body weight. That is certainly how we teach at Diversity Yoga, as it is the best form of teaching practice. However, not everyone likes to be touched so simply decline if you want to be left to your own devices. Likewise, there is not need to interrupt your practice to say thank you. Accept the learning and/or adjustment simply, nothing more is required. You can always give the teacher feedback at the end of the class is your particularly like or dislike something.
Overall, take everything at your own pace. Be aware of the difference between pain and discomfort. Yoga will challenge your ingrained movement patterns, some of which may not be healthy. Just allow things to happen – Soon, the discussion between your muscles and your mind will end and you will find comfort and relaxation. If anything becomes too taxing, it is perfectly acceptable to sit back on the mat until something more accessible happens.
Most of all, open your mind to the new experience, smile and breathe. The time you are investing into yourself is a gift. Savour it!
What clothes should I wear to yoga?
Tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts are perfectly fine to wear, as long as the fabric has some stretch to allow movement in all the joints.
For your dignity and to save the yoga teacher’s eyes, it is probably good to make sure you wear well-fitting, supportive underwear. If you plan to wear shorts, make sure they are long enough to preserve your dignity in Down Dog or the Cobbler’s Pose. There is nothing worse than gapey shorts that display more than the user intended, when they are not aware of the fact!
Layering up with a warmer top and a cooler T-shirt or vest top underneath will allow you to unwrap when things get hot, and then to cover up again when you cool down.
Yoga is practised barefoot, but it is good to take a pair of socks along, especially in the winter when feet get cold during final relaxation. It is also a good idea to take a thin blanket or wrap. You can use it to cover up during final relaxation, but it can also double up as a prop or to use, folded, as a pillow during reclining postures.
If you have long hair, tie it back to avoid it falling into your eyes or getting trapped under the body. It is also best, for the same reasons, not to wear dangly jewellery.
Fortunately, yoga is non-competitive and it really doesn’t matter what you wear. As long as you are comfortable, warm and able to move without restriction or distraction, you will be ready for your class!
Should I eat before yoga?
I often get asked if it’s wise to eat before a yoga class. On occasions, I have also instructed a student to lie down on the mat to digest during class, as they became queasy during Downward Facing Dog!
The general yogic advice is that it is best not to eat for at least 2 hours before a yoga class. This helps the body to digest fully, and to clear the internal organs. During a yoga class, pressure is put on the abdominal area, including the intestinal system, the stomach, the liver, the gallbladder and the spleen.
As the main function of these organs are to digest our food, they are working hard after every meal. If they are still working when you start your class, then it places a lot of extra strain on the body to maintain this normal function whilst also being put through the rigours of yoga.
Having bulk in these organs (Especially the gastro-intestinal organs) will limit your practice, make you feel full and uncomfortable, cause bloating and gas and may even give you cramps.
So it is best to have everything digested before you come to class. It gives your body the full benefit of the yoga. We all know that the external, muscular part of yoga is not the whole picture. It’s the work that happens inside the body through yoga that brings the real health benefits. You can help these along by eating a light meal no more than 2 hours ahead of your yoga glass, and then not to eat until after the class.
The other main reason for not eating too close to your yoga class, is the nausea factor. We work with gravity in yoga. Imagine turning a full shopping bag upside down – all the contents will spill out, right? Well the same happens when you turn a full stomach upside down during Downward Facing Dog, Childs Pose or Standing Forward Bend! Of course, our bodies are well-prepared to retain it’s contents but it’s best not to put this one to the test.
So what do you do then, if you want to avoid low blood sugar and losing energy during your class? A small handful of nuts, a drink of coconut water, half a banana (Careful with bananas, they take a long time to digest!) or a small piece of fruit should do the trick. Still, try not to have these too close to starting your practice. It is better to have a hungry rumbly tummy during class, than having to stop or to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed because your body is doing it’s job!