Community yoga in Cammeray

Introducing Cammeray Yoga

Cammeray YogaThe Yoga Institute is proud to announce the launch of our local community initiative, Cammeray Yoga, which will continue to provide all the wonderful breath centered classes and short yoga courses you are used to experiencing at the centre.

This change will allow the faculty at The Yoga Institute to focus on continuing to deliver inspiring, quality yoga teacher training, yoga therapy training and postgraduate yoga teaching education.

Cammeray Yoga, Yoga Classes near North SydneyThe focus for Cammeray Yoga is all about the people who live in this vibrant part of the lower north shore, through yoga events, community classes, short yoga courses and celebrating the diversity of our business neighbours on Miller St and the residents of this area.

It’s an exciting new chapter. Come in, enjoy one of the twenty class themes on offer and the feeling of being connected to the Cammeray yoga community.

We’re officially launching on Friday 11th March at 6pm (learn more or RSVP via our Facebook page or email annebelle@cammerayyoga.com.au) and we’re introducing a new website for Cammeray Yoga.

Receive emails about classes, short courses and events
If you’d like to receive notifications about yoga classes, short yoga courses and local yoga events at the centre, subscribe to the new Cammeray Yoga email list.

We hope to see you at the centre soon.

Warm regards
from all the team at The Yoga Institute and Cammeray Yoga

Women and Yoga

Women and Yoga 

Yoga provides a sustaining force at every stage of life

By Lisa Grauaug

Women and Yoga

Yoga offers an array of benefits for women in all stages of life and when practiced appropriately and regularly it can have a powerful positive impact on a woman’s health and wellbeing.

Yoga as a practice deals with the mind and brings about mental stability and calmness. In life, we are all exposed to change − it is inevitable. Women in particular experience a number of major physiological changes (parinama-s) and Yoga provides a sustaining force throughout these changes. Some of the significant life stages for women are:

  • puberty
  • pre-conception
  • pregnancy
  • post-pregnancy
  • pre-menopause
  • menopause

When we consider these stages of life it is interesting to reflect on the number of hormonal changes a woman may experience over a lifetime, this is quite astounding. For example, the week-to-week changes experienced over the menstrual cycle, the major hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy and post-birth, and the hormonal changes during the peri-menopausal phase.

Yoga as a stabilising tool during life challenges and changes

For many women these hormonal changes bring with them some uncomfortable symptoms such as pre-menstrual tension, hot flashes, depression and anxiety. A Yoga practice is a stabilising tool that can assist women to better manage these symptoms and bring about a state of healthy balance.

Scientific evidence supporting this claim includes a 2010 review of 21 papers which assessed mind and body therapies for menopausal symptoms. The researchers found that yoga, tai chi, and meditation-based programmes may be helpful in reducing common menopausal symptoms including the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, sleep and mood disturbances, stress, and muscle and joint pain (Innes KE, Selfe TK, Vishnu A. 2010).

Women and yoga through the ages

Traditionally, it has been reported that women were not permitted to practice Yoga! This is certainly not adhered to today as Yoga plays a significant role in the lives of so many women and the majority of people practicing yoga worldwide are in fact female.

The US Sports Marketing Surveys (2012) on behalf of the Yoga Journal published data showing that 8.7 % (20.4 million) of adults in the U.S. practice yoga. Of all the yoga practitioners surveyed 82.2 % were women and 17.8 % were men. We see evidence of an even stronger trend here in Australia. A 2012 Australian study looking at yoga in Australia estimated that 90% of yoga practitioners in this country are women.

Contrary to popular belief, there is evidence that women did in fact practice and were respected authorities in Yoga in the early times of this ancient tradition. Many of these women were householders, such evidence can be found in the ancient Vedic texts. These texts document that women experienced sublime states of peace through Yoga. Among the identified female sages or yogini-s are Gargi, Ahalya and Maitreyi. All of whom were said to be revered for their philosophical contributions to important texts, such as the thousand-year old Upanishad-s used by yoga practitioners and yoga teachers today.

The role of yoga practice in the lives of modern women

The ultimate goal of Yoga, as broadly translated from the source text -Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, is an experience of sustained happiness, a state of absolute calmness. Equally men and women no doubt have a right to move towards this state of being. Keep in mind, sustained happiness is a distant goal in the Yoga path and the richness and positive benefits unfold throughout the journey.

With the high levels of perceived stress reported in Australia today, the role of women in creating and sustaining balanced, healthy lives for themselves and for their families has never been so relevant. Let’s now explore some fundamental realities that are relevant to women and the application of Yoga.

The key to an enriching personal practice is to support the natural functioning of a woman’s unique system and to consider a woman’s stage of life. 

Nature has designed women, structurally and physiologically, differently to men. When we take into account these physiological differences certain asana (postures) are considered more appropriate for women. Sri Krishnamacharya (often referred to as the ‘father of modern yoga’) offered some posture guidelines for women and recommended the inclusion of back strengthening and wide legged postures. Sri Krishnamachrya also strictly advocated that each student has individual and unique needs, there are no template practices for women, and practice design is developed for the individual. With this personalised approach to yoga practice, profound and long-lasting benefits may be experienced.

Over the stages of life our needs change and our yoga practice changes accordingly. For example, to maintain good health during the reproductive years of a woman’s life and to be prepared for conception (if this is your desire), the design of the woman’s practice will support the individual woman’s needs and be supportive of reproductive health.

There are yoga postures and sequences that were not originally designed for women. For example, postures that bring considerable tension to the abdominal area are not considered supportive towards reproductive function. Such postures may include, the repetitive practice of forearm balance postures, a favourite for many young women. Despite the fun challenge and good feeling of strength these postures offer, the overall effect may not be supportive of their current health needs in particular looking after their reproductive health.

A woman’s practice in the later years of life, would involve an array of practices to support healthy ageing. For example, Asana (physical postures) to support bone health and prevent osteoporosis, or the use of sound in asana and pranayama (breathing practices) for the restoration of good health.

Yoga is a transformative system for women and awareness to breath provides an anchor for positive growth. 

Despite the inevitability of change and the discomfort it can bring, change provides an opportunity for growth. A key tool in Yoga to support women through the stages of life, is to work with the conscious regulation of breath. The breath is what sustains us, it supports movement and provides a continuous point of focus, a place where we can rest our attention.

Conscious awareness of your breathing helps to naturally regulate your breath. The quality of your breath has a reciprocal effect on the quality of your mental experience, “a pleasant and calm breath represents a peaceful and calm mind”. As taught by Sri Krishnamacharya, breath awareness begins in asana and prepares you for pranayama and meditation.

When mental steadiness and feelings of peace and calmness are experienced, a sense of order prevails, a sense of stability in change and we are “free” and more readily able to connect with innate positive qualities such as creativity, vitality, tolerance, compassion, patience, and love. Such qualities naturally enrich women’s lives, their relationships and can bring a depth of positive experience and meaning through any challenge and at any stage of life.

Lisa is a Senior Yoga Teacher and Registered Counselling Psychologist in private practice at The Yoga Institute. She offers postgraduate training in Pregnancy and Postnatal Yoga, Yoga for back-care, yoga classes, counselling sessions and private yoga sessions.

Annebelle van Tongeren - Yoga Teacher

Santi Claus is Coming to Town

Annebelle van Tongeren - Yoga Teacherby Annebelle van Tongeren

Well there’s no getting around it. As we move through our December days, confronted by jingle bells at every shop window, and every streetscape adorned with all things merry and bright, we are without a doubt headed for that marvellous celebration. Christmas. And I love it.

I come from a large Catholic family who placed a certain reverence on this special time of year. My Dutch East Indies born father was careful to use the phrase, “Happy Christmas” rather than “Merry Christmas” as that sparkly home-made banner of sentiment was hung across the front windows of our lounge room, facing outwards to the street. I was a little embarrassed by this as a child, wishing dearly Dad would just get on board the Aussie Christmas train and use a bit of Merry in the place of Happy. As I grew older, I came to understand that his deliberate choice of words was just perfect.

The festive season at it’s heart is when we have such an amazing opportunity to be in touch with the small things that connect us to the people we love. This isn’t about retail. This is about moments. Little snapshots of life right here and now. Whether that is being truly present while unwrapping a present, savouring that first mouthful of Christmas cake and taking in all the layers of flavour or mindfully stirring the mixing bowl, preparing with great heart whatever it is that your loved ones salivate over, we all have the chance to stop and be very still in the middle of the frisson and madness.

My daughter and I have had a tradition now for eighteen Decembers of taking the pudding basin, stirring it three times and putting a wish in there. A samkalpa. A heartfelt intention directed specifically towards the people we love. Yes there are currants, raisins, cranberries and figs in my puddings. But there’s a good dash of samkalpa too!

A Christmas full of happiness is a Christmas full of presence. And no, that wasn’t a typo. The very first yoga sutra, At ha, asks us to be present. Right here, right now. Notice. Because being present is a present in itself! While the busy-ness of December can be completely all-consuming, I choose to take each element of the silly season separately. Each ornament I hang on the tree is placed with care and attention in exactly the right place, with my darling Pa’s glass baubles (which may well be from the very first Christmas in Australia, they are THAT old!) hung high just like they are every year, when we all have a good old giggle at Pa leaving us his fragile, shiny green balls.

There is a very specific vinyasa krama that is in place for every part of setting up the Christmas tree at my place and decorating it. And heaven help anyone who throws a wayward downward dog into the vinyasa. This is a sequence well practiced and perfected over the years and every second of it is precious. And every year at the end of the process, I burst into tears. Happy tears. Happy Christmas tears.

Happiness is a sneaky thing. And our yoga practice reminds us of this. We inhale and move the body this way. Exhale and move the body that way. Add a few more luscious breath cycles, a few more movements in the body and a whole lot of focus on being right there in the moment and soon enough it’s a whole vinyasa. Then a whole practice. Perfectly still while being in movement, focused on being present in each moment of each pose, we find that wonderful deep sense of whatever this meaningful and rich practice of yoga means to each of us. And we find presence.

By acknowledging and savouring each moment of our yoga session separately from the next, we can come to the awareness that just like those gorgeous strings of metallic pearls around the Christmas tree are individual parts and yet all attached as one adornment, what we experience moment by moment can be joined together to become one long string called happiness.

I was going to write about adding some more abdominal twists into your practices to assist the digestion which seems a rather weighted issue in December. Pardon the pun. But I decided instead to write this piece about my December wish for you all.  To be blessed with a happy Christmas. We can have the Merry any old time! Santi, santi santi to you all and your loved ones. Santi, Sanskrit for peace, is coming to town I’m sure. Notice and witness your tiny increments of time. String them together if you like, and swirl them around your tree. Draw your precious moments inwards, just like those beautiful, prana-rich inhalations we teachers at The Yoga Institute encourage in our classes.

And exhale your Christmas presence to the people you love. Mindfulness seems to be front and centre in so many articles these days, and how wonderful that the best seller lists for literature in 2015  are heavy with mindfulness colouring in books. Even the Christmas windows at David Jones feature decals of these mindfulness art books as part of their display. Amazing. Retailers take note. I think things are shifting. Perhaps we are all hoping for lots of Christmas presence.

Yoga Psychology and the subtle mind-body-breath-life connection

Yoga Psychology and the subtle mind-body-breath-life connection

by Michael de Manincor

Yoga Psychology Article-Nov2015Yoga Psychology is an interesting term, perhaps a tautology, or at least it proposes an intriguing way of understanding psychology and the nature of the human condition, from an ancient wisdom culture.

Yoga is all about the mind

The system of Yoga, developed and taught by Patanjali (a great Indian sage from over 2000 years ago), is defined as the development and refinement of the mind – what it is; how it works; known limitations and dysfunctional tendencies; what one can do to improve its levels of functioning; and with understanding and regular practice of the various components and techniques offered, what the mind might be capable of.

Yoga includes a complete understanding of mind in the context of a physical, breathing, social being, with implications for behaviour change, personal transformation and a flourishing life. Yoga is a holistic multi-dimensional system of health and well-being that focuses on the mind and its functions, with multi-component mind-body practices, including physical postures and movement, breathing exercises, deep relaxation, and mindfulness and meditation. Other aspects of yoga practice include cultivation of positive values, thoughts and attitudes, and lifestyle factors.

Modern misunderstanding of Yoga’s original focus and purpose

However, “yoga” in today’s world is no longer a term primarily associated with this ancient psychological system presented in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Modern yoga is a much broader term that includes a growing number of popular styles and approaches, mostly associated with physical postures and group classes (gentle or intense, calming or energising, whatever style you like!), instructed by many people with limited education and training. Whilst these seem to provide considerable benefit and rewards for millions of people throughout the world, the system of Yoga is much more about a personal experience of the subtle mind-body-breath connection, than it is about physical strength or flexibility. In fact, these particular physical factors are somewhat (but not completely) irrelevant.

The importance of psychology in the context of overall health

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO Constitution, 1946). Mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (weblink). Whilst “mental disorders”, including depression and anxiety, are also described and categorised using an extensive range of diagnostic labels, they are generally characterised by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and relationships with others (weblink). And whilst mental health care is generally associated with the treatment of diagnosed disorders, WHO emphasises that “mental health is recognised as more than the absence of mental disorders. Mental health is an integral part of health. Indeed, there is no health without mental health” (weblink). These definitions eloquently describe in modern language, the essence of what Patanjali described in the system of Yoga, some 2000 years ago.

Mental health benefits of yoga

Yoga (or Yoga Psychology) includes approaches for the reduction or treatment of mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, by utilising mind-body-lifestyle interventions, as well as cultivating a healthy (in the WHO sense of the word), productive and flourishing life (remember, there is more to Yoga than physical postures and group classes!).

It is well known that many people begin yoga for physical benefits, but over time, continue to practice yoga primarily for mental health benefits. A growing body of scientific evidence now supports the numerous personal and anecdotal claims of these mental health benefits, especially in the reduction of depression and anxiety. Again, caution is needed regarding what is actually meant by the “yoga” being studied. Broad sweeping claims about yoga and its benefits are not warranted. It is necessary to consider what particular components, approaches or techniques might have mental health benefits?

Research into the link between yoga practice and mental health

Reviews of the research suggest that caution is required in interpreting the results. Numerous limitations are identified in study design and methodology. The wide range of approaches and techniques used in different studies make it almost impossible to draw general conclusions about the benefits of yoga. And, rationale and details of the types of yoga included in the studies are often lacking. However, the research is promising in establishing an evidence-based approach of the mental health benefits of yoga.

As part of this ongoing research, we recently conducted two studies through the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), which is part of the School of Science and Health at the University of Western Sydney.

The first study sought to gain a consensus statement from experienced yoga teachers and researchers in the field of yoga and mental health throughout the world, on recommended approaches and techniques to include or avoid in yoga practices for people with depression or anxiety. The results of the study were used to develop “yoga for mental health intervention guidelines”, which have been presented at international Yoga Therapy and Positive Psychology conferences and published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal. This is freely available to download here.

The second study was a randomised clinical trial to evaluate the benefits of individualised yoga in addition to conventional or usual mental health care, for reducing depression and anxiety, and improve well-being. The study included over 100 participants. Each participant attended 4 private yoga sessions and was taught an individualised yoga practice to do at home over a period of 6 weeks. A range of measures for depression, anxiety, stress, psychological distress, general mental and physical health, well-being and resilience were included. Results suggest significant mental health benefits from individualised yoga plus usual care, compared to usual care alone. The study and results have been published in Depression and Anxiety and the abstract can be read here.

Michael de Manincor is the Founder and Course Director at The Yoga Institute in Sydney. Michael is a Counselling Psychologist, Senior Yoga Teacher Trainer, Yoga Therapist, Former President and Honorary Life Member of Yoga Australia, and is currently completing a PhD in Yoga and Mental Health. 

Michael and Janet Lowndes of Mind Body Well are currently offering education and training in the field of Yoga Psychology and Yoga for Mental Health, for yoga teachers and mental health professionals.

Anjali-Mudra-The Yoga Institute

Why develop a gratitude practice?

by Brigette Keeble*

Anjali-Mudra-The Yoga InstituteThe fields of yoga, mindfulness and psychology converge in that they all encourage the practice of positive intentional activities to improve one’s emotional health and wellbeing. Why is it so important that we spend time practicing mindfulness and cultivating attitudes like gratitude?

We now know that how we direct our lives – our intentional activity is responsible for 40% of our level of happiness. Just 10% of our happiness level comes from life circumstances such as our living conditions, careers and possessions. The remaining 50% is a natural set point we are born with.

This means we personally have the power to determine our own level of happiness day to day. What we think, our attitudes and subsequent behaviors all have a powerful impact on how we feel and how we perceive life.

The Yoga Sutras of Patajanli, yoga psychology and philosophy dating back thousands of years, express this point beautifully according to Edwin Bryant:

true happiness comes from a deep contentment with whatever one has, not with thinking that one will be happy when one gets all that one desires.”

This raises the question for us ‘what attitudes lead to greater happiness?’

According to leading positive psychologists of our time (Martin Seligman, Sonya Lybomirsky and Robert Emmons), one of the most powerful actions we can initiate is opening up the doors to gratitude. Gratitude bolsters self worth and esteem, enhances one’s ability to cope with stress and trauma, and enables positive relationships and social bonds.

The mental action of gratitude is a profound self-care activity to refine oneself (the niyamas) and to cultivate our own sustainable inner happiness. It is the act of being grateful for who we are and what we have. This mental activity helps us to:

  • Manage negative and stagnant thinking (a natural characteristic of the mind)
  • Seek alternative perspectives that make us feel good and foster a sense of appreciation
  • Increase our resilience to cope with day to day frustrations that arise

People who practice gratitude say they experience more positive emotions, relish good life experiences, enjoy improved health and build strong relationships.

We all face times when gratitude can be hard to cultivate – sad life experiences, negative emotions, periods of loss to name a few. These experiences are still important to acknowledge and gratitude can help provide some relief at these times. Emmons showed that consciously cultivating gratitude builds a ‘psychological immune system’ that cushions us and makes us more resilient in times of stress. At these times in can be helpful to cultivate gratitude in partnership with self-compassion, caring for how we are in the moment.

Practicing gratitude does not have to be arduous. It can be as simple as setting an intention (sankalpa) of gratitude for your yoga practice or reflecting on three things you were grateful for each day. What is important is practicing regularly and consistently. We then receive the greatest benefit for our emotional wellbeing.

Ways to practice gratitude

Some ideas for practicing gratitude from Sonya Lybomirsky:

  • Caring for yourself physically and emotionally – gratitude for self
  • Practice yoga and mindfulness that focuses on gratitude
  • Gratitude journal, regularly write about those things for which you are most grateful
  • Count your blessings before sleep – 3 things you were grateful for throughout the day
  • Express gratitude and kindness to others verbally
  • Write a thank you note to someone you love
  • Practice living in the present and enjoying the positive qualities moment to moment rather than focusing on past or future events
  • Avoid overthinking and social comparisons – focus on and be thankful for what you have
  • Volunteer as a way of expressing gratitude for those within your community

* Brigette teaches the Embodied Mindfulness course at The Yoga Institute on Tuesdays 8pm-9:30 pm. Join her this month to explore how the yoga sutras guide us in cultivating a peaceful mind.

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