Thoughts on yoga in lockdown

I have really deeply enjoyed both teaching and attending classes over lockdown via zoom. I have had the opportunity of studying with renowned teachers from across the globe all in the comfort of my own home and have taught people all over this country and abroad. It is wonderful to be able to learn and practice at home and I think as the evenings draw in and the weather turns colder, we will all appreciate the option of just rolling out our mats ready for class without having to brave the elements!

Just having a dedicated space for yoga at home with all your equipment to hand is a major step towards establishing a self-practice. Taking 10 minutes to do a quick dog pose and savasana means you are progressing from being a “class goer” to becoming a “yoga practitioner”. An inward focused self-practice session is a very different experience to a teacher-led practice. Learning at home via zoom does partly bridge that gap as you are not distracted by other people and all the comings and goings in a group lesson, but I would really recommend trying a couple of simple poses that are familiar on your own over the next few weeks at home. See how it makes you feel 🙂

 I will be making some short instructional videos for some of the classic poses over the next few weeks, so look out for those here and on social media – goodyogauk on all platforms. 

I would also encourage you to invest in some yoga equipment if you are practicing at home. My favourite supplier of props for Iyengar yoga is where they sell the full range of mats, bolsters, belts, chairs etc. It is a worthwhile investment and if you are saving money on cancelled gym membership or if you have a budget from your employer to improve your home/work space, I think this would be a good place to allocate those funds. 

And finally, as so many of you said that you made the lovely recipe I sent out last time, I thought I would include a little bit of lunchtime inspo. In Ayurveda, during Vata season which is now, in the winds and chill of Autumn, the recommendation is to eat warming, nourishing foods. We leave the crisp salads and watermelons of Summer behind and eat hearty and grounding foods to balance us through this transitional season. 

I love to roast a huge tray of vegetables on a Sunday and eat these at lunchtime over the week, with some of the more wintry salad leaves like chicory and rocket, maybe some feta or some beans for some protein in the mix and some seeds to top it off. About to go into the oven now are carrots, beetroot, leeks and butternut squash with some crushed whole garlic cloves and some thyme, salt and pepper and olive oil. Colourful, nourishing and definitely better than a sandwich!

If you are thinking about trying one of my classes online, please drop me an email for all the details. 

Take good care of yourselves! ❄

Yoga to manage menopause

Every woman’s experience of the menopause is different. Some women become hot, irritable, anxious and stressed. Other women feel overwhelmed by low mood, apathy and despondency. And then there is every nuance in between.

The way these symptoms manifest can be wildly different, but the causes are the same; a huge shift in hormonal output and the consequent stress on the endocrine system which can make even mild symptoms challenging. 1 in 5 women in the UK leave their jobs finding they cannot function in the workplace under the burden of their symptoms. The impact on women’s lives is not to be underestimated.

However there is much than can be done to support the body holistically. Yoga and meditation are both proven to be highly effective for balancing these symptoms, so much so that they are recommended by the NHS. A targeted, discriminative practice is key. The stillness of restorative yoga in particular brings calm to the nervous system, reduces stress in the body and can improve function of the organs such as the liver. This can help process toxins generated by excess hormones, aid digestion for assimilation of essential nutrients and ensures the endocrine system which regulates our hormones is functioning optimally. Even something as simple as deep breathing can reduce anxiety and improve sleep. A North American Menopause study concluded that “Conscious breathing for 15 minutes twice a day can cut hot flushes by 44%”. Freedman, Woodward, Brown, Javaid, and Pandey (1995)

By bringing calmness to the body and regulating our stress response, we  build resilience to stressful events when they arise in the future.

Introducing some yoga into your daily routine can be as simple as practicing one supported posture for 10 minutes followed by Savasana, corpse pose for relaxation. This is always the final posture in any yoga sequence. Lie flat on your back on the floor with the eyes closed and consciously relax every part of the body. This pose restores energy and is the gateway to meditation.

One of my favourite poses, supported Supta Baddha Konasana, (shown below) is a wonderful and important pose for women with numerous benefits.

This posture helps to

  • reduce fatigue and increase energy levels
  • reduce insomnia by inducing calm
  • open the chest to facilitate deep breathing
  • lift the heart centre to improve the mood
  • increase blood flow to the pelvic region
  • stimulates the digestive organs
  • relax the entire nervous system

Incorporate this into your day during a mid-afternoon energy dip instead of having a coffee, for example. By making this simple switch and taking 10 minutes in this supported pose, you are investing in something that will help you to relax, boost your energy and ensure a more restful night’s sleep.

For women who feel low and lacking in energy during menopause, the more invigorating yoga poses will be of greater benefit. In fact, all women who are suffering with tiredness from lack of sleep or insomnia will benefit from a more active yoga practice in the mornings. This will help to regulate energy levels through the day and will also induce deeper sleep at night. It is also beneficial to get outside in the morning light and move your body early in the day when the muscles feel stiffer. A sun salutation or some backbends will increase energy and resilience. Backbends also stimulate the adrenal glands, which regulate stress hormones and also become a primary source of oestrogen production both during and post menopause. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (below) is a backbend pose that opens the chest to release energy and may even increase libido.

The foundations to enjoy good health are laid by establishing a routine of weight-bearing poses to strengthen the bones, by practicing balancing postures that help keep you steady on your feet and standing poses to ensure that joints and muscles remain flexible and strong.

Yoga and Ayurveda in particular, believe that times of change are very important and emphasise how it is essential to support the body and mind during these transitions. The importance of the “self-care” element in practicing yoga, of taking some time out to look after yourself, should not be trivialised. The old adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is especially poignant here, as most women have spent many years perfecting the art of putting their needs to the bottom of the pile. In this particular period of change, our bodies are losing some of the fire that drives us. We need to carefully nurture ourselves during this transformation and take the time we deserve to slow down and rest.

We must remind ourselves “The only constant is change”. The menopause is one of the great transitions of a woman’s life. THE change: a huge shift with obvious and profound effects. And as with any change, it can be a turbulent journey but when we arrive at our destination, transformed into wise women, the elders of our society, we hope that the wisdom and insight we have gained along the way helps us celebrate and appreciate this next phase of life as being as enriching and valuable as any other.

About our workshops

Our “good menopause” yoga and nutrition workshops have been developed to inform women of the many natural options available to provide support during this change. Over two sessions we teach yoga postures, explaining which poses will help with which particular challenges, and introduce meditation and pranayama (controlled breathing). BANT registered nutritional therapist Samantha Josephs – Nutritionista presents an overview of a healthy balanced diet and supplement programme to help to reduce symptoms. We also familiarise women with other holistic practices such as acupuncture, which is also very effective in reducing hot flushes. Handouts and practice sheets help support attendees in introducing these practices into their daily schedule and the results are profound.

Welcoming Autumn 🍁

Hello everyone,

The seasons have certainly changed this week and we are now moving swiftly into Autumn. In traditional Chinese medicine, this is the start of Yin season, a time of darkness, and the corresponding energy is inward-turning, cold and slow. Our movements and our food at this time of year should reflect this change after the heat and energy of the summer, with slow, conscious movement, and warming nourishing foods. A time to dig out your scarves and soft, warm clothing to shield yourself from the encroaching chill.

This week’s yoga classes will complement the season, practising warming and nourishing movements and breathing to support the kidney energy and nervous system. 

I always love to change the menu in our house to reflect the new season and one of my favourite autumnal dishes is this Malaysian Lentil and Squash curry. It’s a hearty one-pot vegan dish full of pumpkin and warming spices, perfect to nourish our digestive systems at this time of Vata energy which, in ayurveda, dominates at this time of year. 

I hope you enjoy the recipe and in this week’s Tuesday evening class, please have a candle in the room to help create a warm and comforting atmosphere. 

This week’s classes – 

Tuesday restorative – 7.30pm

Friday general – 9.30am

Hemsley & Hemsley Malaysian Lentil and Squash Curry

Ingredients – Serves 6

For the curry

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 tins of coconut milk

3 medium onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves, diced

3 thumb-sized pieces of fresh root ginger (120g)

1 squash (1kg) peeled and diced 2.5cm chunks

700ml stock (veg or bone broth)

500g split red lentils

400g spinach or cabbage

juice of 1 lime

75g coriander, roughly chopped

salt and pepper

For the Malaysian spice mix

2 green cardamom pods

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp fennel seeds

2 tbsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp chilli flakes (or more to taste)

1/4 tsp ground clove

1. First make the malaysian spice mix. Crush the cardamom and mustard seeds with the back of a knife or in a pestle and mortar. Add the spiced to a large saucepan and gently toast for a minute.

2. Add the coconut oil and onion and fry for 10 minutes until softened. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for another few minutes.

3. Add the coconut milk, squash and broth. Cover and bring to a medium simmer. 

4. After 10 minutes, add the red lentils, stir and simmer over a medium heat for 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and the squash is tender. You may need to add extra broth and keep stirring so it doesn’t stick. 

5. Turn off the heat and add the spinach so it wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste and the juice of the lime. 

6. Stir through the coriander and ladle into bowls to serve 🧡

Enjoy and stay cosy!