Lesson 1: Tilt your head to the side

Tilt your head to the side. What does this resemble? 

Focus on the elevated leg.

Looking at things from a range of perspectives fuels empathy, compassion and provides a 360 degree sweep of information. It’s a huge milestone from childhood to adulthood, when we harness the ability to think from the perspective of someone else.

It’s also a huge milestone in using your yoga practice to inform your off mat movements.

To “see” the link requires you tilt your head to the side. To look from the perspective of the ground, the sky, the left or right side. To half close your eyes and see beyond the posture name and the wrapping of skin to observe the position of the bones and muscles.

In considering how to explain this ability to “see” I realised most of us practice it everyday, but in a slightly different context. Authors, movie-makers, artists, directors and producers rely on us having this ability to ‘see’.

Whether via a book, screen or canvas storytellers take a moment of humour or frustration, something we collectively experience and amplify it to the point where the message is glaringly obvious.

The Handmaid’s Tale, book and movie is an example. The storylines are insane, ghastly to watch at times. The definition of family and love are borderline illegal. There’s torture of every kind. Judgement and public shaming are the cornerstones of civilisation.

If you dial back the exaggeration, you’ll arrive at issues very much apart of everyday life. The nuances of parenting, marriage and divorce. Equality issues in domestic, occupational and financial arenas. The management of global cultural differences – how do we reconcile the behaviour of one culture when it goes against the majority of other cultures?

Warrior III is an exaggerated version of walking.

If you dial Warrior back, you’ll arrive at the same mechanics as walking. This means walking can help you with Warrior and Warrior can help you understand walking.  It also means if you find Warrior difficult, the difficulty likely spills over into how you walk.

One of the main muscles recruited is the gluteus maximus. During Warrior there’s an intensity in the glute. If the glute doesn’t engage or work hard enough, another body part will be needed to elevate the leg. In most instances this other part is the low back. If you dial back Warrior to arrive at walking, the glute still activates but not nearly as much. If the glute doesn’t engage during walking, the low back will become involved.

  • If you have low back issues, is there an issue with the glutes during walking?
  • Spend a little bit of time focussing on the glutes while walking. As you take a step forward you should feel the glute muscle of the back leg engage. Spend some time each day intensifying this. Each time you step forward squeeze the glute of the back leg.
  • Think about how this action, when exaggerated, transitions into Warrior.

These things are so underrated

Over the past week these two things saved me. I had a sciatic nerve thing going on for a day or so.  I've been feeling a bit flat. I've been putting in long hours for uni. There is nothing complicated about what I did, the beauty is how simple they are. It's always the simple things that work.

  1. Standing slightly pigeon-toed.
    Let me explain this one by telling you about the opposite way to stand. Imagine a pregnant woman, complete with a beautifully enormous baby belly. There is a significant amount of weight pulling forward and down. To take some of the load, women tend to adopt a wide stance with their toes out (opposite to pigeon-toed). This throws the hips forward so the hips become like ledges, holding most of their belly weight. The hips are over-burdened and the low back is pulled forward and in, creating significant compression. This happens not only with pregnant women but body types that carry more abdominal weight. It happens to us when we get tired and lazy and forget about how we stand and hold ourselves.The opposite is pigeon-toed, turning the toes slightly in. The degree is only slight, you don't want to see a pigeon-toed stance, you only want to feel it. When you adopt this stance, the abdominal weight draws in toward the spine and importantly, the low back adjusts back and out, creating a triangle of space around the lumbar, sacrum and sacro-illiac joint. Ideally we want to be standing like this all the time.
  2. Constructive rest position.
    This is so simple it doesn't even seem like a thing to do. An actual healing thing to do. An amazingly restful thing to do.
    That's it. Lying on your back with your knees bent. Here's a run-down of what's happening...
    This position is all about the psoas muscle. This muscle is buried deep in the body, you can't touch or see it. It's a deep core muscle and structurally connects the top half of the body with the bottom half. One of its main jobs is to stabilise the lumbar spine. When the psoas muscle is tight, it pulls the lumbar spine creating an over-arch (hyper-lordosis). Pain can show up in the glutes, hip, groin, low back, sciatic nerve and S.I joint.  The other thing it does is communicate directly to the nervous system. This is because the muscle is located so deep within the body. When the psoas is tight, it will automatically send the nervous system into the "fight/flight" response. This is why the posture feels so restful, it lengthens and releases the psoas, dropping us into the parasympathetic "rest/digest" system.
    What does the damage. Sitting, running, kicking (martial arts, football, soccer), hockey and cycling are all movements that tighten the psoas.
    How. Have the feet hip distance and slightly pigeon-toed. Most people need to stack a block or firm cushion under their head so neck remains parallel to the ground. Hands can rest on the belly, ribcage or alongside the body. You don't need to do anything once you've set yourself up, our changed relationship with gravity does the work in releasing the psoas muscle. Stay as long as you like but try to aim for at least five minutes.

We have to talk about it...sweat

Sweat. Necessary. Gross. Scientific. Desirable. Embarrassing. Too much. Not enough.

The short answer of how it works:

When your internal body temperature begins to increase, the nervous system goes to work stimulating and releasing sweat. Sweat, essentially salty water with a few other bits and pieces, sits on the surface of the skin and begins the process of vaporisation, changing from a liquid to a gas. It's a smart system build on the laws of physics. To convert a liquid to a gas requires heat. Sweat uses the heat from your body to transform into a gas.

You end up cooler. Your sweat ends up as a vapour.

What happens when you wipe sweat off?

You disrupt the relationship between liquid, gas and heat. The body responds by registering the heat, producing more sweat and on the cycle goes. Lesson here is don't wipe it off. Try really hard to work around it, embrace it and let it be.


A fit person will begin sweating earlier and produce more sweat than someone not as fit. As fitness increases, the body becomes more proficient at this sweating business. The aim is to be able to sweat, indicating your body has a reliable way of keeping itself cool. This means you don't risk things like heat stroke and exhaustion and you can keep doing whatever it is you're doing for longer.

5 to 6 kilos

Last semester I had to look at some studies for uni and provide discussion on different methods for losing weight. There was one method in particular that caught my eye.

In the study GPs were advised to identify patients who were 5-6kgs heavier than their ideal, healthy weight. The next step was to plant a seed,  to draw the persons attention to the extra few kgs. Next came a conversation about how easy it is to shift 5-6kgs, while it's such a small number and before it raises any major flags. It's not enough weight to trigger diabetes, heart disease or cholesterol, in fact there's no major health implications for 5-6kgs.

The philosophy was to empower people to take action at the inconsequential marker of 5-6kgs, because while it's easy to effect a positive change, it's also a gateway. It segues quickly into 15-20kgs. Then 25-40kgs. To then a really, big problem.

This approach worked on empowerment not fear. It increased self-awareness so the 5-6kg marker would be more noticeable in the future. It inspired people with a doable plan to circumnavigate something more disastrous.

What if we apply this approach to aches, pains, tightness, inflexibility. To the first night, rather than the fifth that we have a sh*tty sleep. Rather than waiting for a knee blowout, a back breakdown, bursitis, a tear, insomnia or stress induced illness.  What if we did something at the first niggle.

Two things are required for this to work. Notice the niggle first of all. Then do something about it.

Niggles are subtle. They are the first couple of steps you take in the morning as you hobble to the bathroom. By the time you're at the bathroom, gone. No more discomfort, already forgotten about. This is the 5-6kg marker.

It's really easy to go on with your day but also really easy to do something about it.

This method of weight loss returned amazing results. People felt powerful, in charge. They had options. They could start walking a few mornings a week, or swim, or cycle or run. They could make some small, barely noticeable changes to their diet.

The other option might be no option. Diabetes medication for life. Cholesterol meds. A potentially long battle with weight. Gastric bypass. Obesity. Depression.

I had a conversation with a client the other day, a 40 something year old guy who comes to yoga once a week, never misses one. He came to yoga in his 40's because of a lower back injury. He tells me all the time how he wishes he'd found yoga in his 20's. What would his footy career have looked like? What would the state of his back be like, with an hour of yoga a week for 20 odd years?

When you notice a niggle, the options are doable. Totally. Get friendly with your hamstrings. 10 minutes everyday. Legs up the wall. Awesome. Breathe deeply for 5 minutes. Oh the joy!

Niggles. Powerful.

Yin yoga. It's supposed to be different

Yin yoga is designed to be different. It’s quite scientific and very anatomical. In some ways it’s easier but in many ways it’s harder. Our sedentary lifestyles make yin yoga difficult but so very necessary.

Yoga is typically grouped into two approaches, yin or yang. The popularity of yang classes continues to rise in the western world.  Yang works with muscular tissues which tends to include repetitive, rhythmic muscular contractions. Yang classes are dynamic and fast-flowing. At Yoga Emporium, we call yang Hot Flow.

In comparison yin movements are very slow and deliberate. You stay in the postures for longer, marinating in the sensations. This is HARD. Mindfulness is challenged with a yin approach.

We often use distraction as a way to circumnavigate discomfort. We distract ourselves with heat, sweat, with fast movements, with the people around us. With the pictures on the wall. With our toenails. Yin yoga sets down the challenge to stay PRESENT with the sensations. If the posture focusses on the hamstrings, then follow the sensation down the hamstring. Stay with it.

The benefits of Yin:

  • Develops a deeper awareness of muscles, joints, injuries and tightness
  • The longer holds allow the posture to seep down into connective tissue and fascia
  • It specifically prepares the body to sit comfortably for meditation
  • Works with the principle of applying a slow, steady load to encourage the body to respond with increased strength and length
  • Postures often focus on hips, pelvis and low back
  • Encourages a sensitivity to more subtle cues which is necessary for injury prevention

Yoga Emporium offers three Yin classes per week. Check timetable for details and to book.

How to change your practice

How you can dramatically change your yoga practice

If your practice has started to feel familiar and heaven forbid comfortable and mindless, it’s time to advance.

We often associate more advanced classes with more challenging postures, faster, hotter and with more and more limb contortion. Another way to advance something is by changing how you define it. Yoga. Asana. Deep. Namaste. These words get thrown around as often as downward dogs and with familiarity, their definitions can become uninspired, irrelevant and impersonal.

The best definitions are collections of words that not only describe what something is but add depth and colour; the how, when and why. The following definitions of these four familiar words blend their historical Sanskrit roots with some depth and colour added in.

Yoga. It means yoke which translates as come together or unify. These days the elements often being yoked together, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly deep and inspiring.  On trend activewear, the perfect mat and the most exotic place to practice seem to equal yoga that has been successfully ‘yoked’.

Let’s add the word ‘harness’ to the definition of yoga. To be able to steer something, it must be harnessed. Now we have a way to yoke. Harness the mind to the body. Harness the body to the breath. Harness the breath to the mind.

Asana. It’s generally interpreted as posture, the physical contortion of the body. The importance of asana therefore is what the arms, legs, muscles and joints are doing. Insert Instagram and Pinterest and you can see how asana is put up on a pedestal.

We have to go back to the roots of yoga to find the real and quite surprising meaning of asana. It translates to sitting quietly in the pose. Without fighting or forcing, without shifting or squirming. Asana has nothing to do with the physicality of the body but everything to do with the landscape of the mind. This isn’t easy so instead we choose, and particularly in the western world, to analyse the sh*t out of our triangle pose so we don’t have to contend with the fact that we can’t sit quietly in it.

Deep. Go deeper, move deeper. This cue is often interpreted as force and push your body into a more confronting posture, with nil regard for what’s sacrificed. Get out of the way knees, move over stomach, stop talking low back.

When we work with a different definition of deep, it tells us how and what to deepen. Deepen the breath by smoothing it out and respecting the pauses. Deepen the mental practice by finding a focus point and holding your gaze to it. Deep in this sense has no reflection on how the body is arranged but how we approach and ‘sit’ in the postures.

Namaste. Uttering the word brings closure to every yoga class. There are so many translations for namaste and often the words divinity, spirit, bow, respect and gratitude feature. It’s used in the Hindi tradition as a mark of respect, to acknowledge an elder, as a sign you would like to initiate a conversation. The simultaneous bowing of the head and bringing together of the palms is just as significant as the word itself when searching for a translation.

When we translate from one language to another, we try to find an equivalent but does English have an equivalent word?

Working with a deeper definition, namaste embodies intention. That you’ve approached the practice, the teacher, the person, yourself, with gratitude and respect. That you acknowledge a common connection. A connection that is deeper than us both loving yoga, speaking the same language or even living in the same community. A much deeper connection. Oneness.