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24 Oct
Posted by Nikola Ellis

Why we need to put the breath first in yoga



The ancient sage Patanjali defined yoga as a state of mind in which all our conscious and unconscious patterns of belief quieten down. It’s the process of letting go of all the things you think (or subconsciously believe) about the world so that you can see things as they truly are.


That’s not something most of us can do at the drop of a hat, which is why Patanjali gives us an 8-step program for moving towards that state of absolute clarity – the Eight Limbs of Yoga.


The first two steps, Yama and Niyama, are guidelines for living a good life with clean living and healthy relationships at the top of the agenda. Next, Patanjali tells us to practice the aspects of yoga that are most familiar to Western students– asana (poses) and pranayama (breathing techniques). We're then asked to switch off from external distractions and move through the three stages of meditation, ending in Samadhi – the state of blissful awareness that we experience when all the mental noise and habits stop.


The first seven steps are all preparation for that final state of transcendent bliss, but we often don’t approach our yoga practice in that way. Asana becomes a form of exercise, novelty or distraction rather than preparation for a practice that promises to deliver the peace and clarity that we’re craving. So how do we approach asana in a way that makes it an effective part of our journey towards Samadhi? By putting the breath at the very heart of every practice.

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18 Sep
Posted by Nikola Ellis

5 Ways to teach yoga from the heart

I recently ran into Joanne, an old friend and an experienced yoga teacher. She wasn’t feeling very yogic.  “Why can’t yoga teachers just teach from what they know?” she said, exasperated. “If one more teacher quotes Rumi at me, I’ll scream!”


Now, Joanne wasn’t suggesting that we have nothing to learn from Rumi or that yoga teachers shouldn’t find inspiration in spiritual texts. That’s clearly not true. Her problem, as she explained, was the use of cookie-cutter scripts in yoga classes.

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13 Sep
Posted by Nikola Ellis

I'm no guru (and that's a good thing)

I’ve been practicing yoga for over 25 years and teaching for 15 years. And I’m a long way from being a guru.


I’ve got plenty of diplomas, degrees and postgraduate qualifications as well as many thousands of hours of experience. But the gaps in my knowledge are as wide as the ocean.


And that’s a good thing. For two reasons...

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13 Mar
Posted by Nikola Ellis

How Yoga Teacher Training Changed Me

I didn’t want to be a yoga teacher. I just wanted to learn more about the thing I loved. Yoga had made a big difference to my life at a time when everything seemed to be falling apart. I was depressed, anxious and facing many challenges that seemed insurmountable. As my yoga practice developed, my fractured, confusing existence began to evolve into a rich and full life that was filled with hope and opportunities. Once things were back on the rails, I wanted to learn how and why yoga had made such profound changes to my body, mind and relationships. After signing up for a few short workshops, I realised that teacher training would be the best way of getting a thorough and deep understanding of yoga.

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08 Mar
Posted by Nikola Ellis

Pranayama -  How yoga breathing brings balance

Does your regular yoga class include pranayama? Pranayama, yoga breathing techniques, can have a more profound impact on your health and wellbeing than any number of yoga poses. Depending on the technique you choose, pranayama can:

  • Soothe anxiety
  • Improve sleep
  • Boost energy
  • Bring balance
  • Create instant calm
  • Reduce headaches/migraines
  • Release muscle tension/pain
  • Promote healing from chronic disease by reducing inflammation in the body

So how does it work? And why isn’t everybody doing it?

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27 Feb
Posted by Nikola Ellis

Grounding Yoga for Difficult Days

These are difficult days. The cultural, political and environmental landscapes are shifting radically and many of us struggle to stay positive. This is when we need yoga most. Yoga can be a powerful force for positive transformation, but before we can go out there and change the world, we need to manage the world within.


The first step is to stay grounded. It’s challenging to stay steady and grounded when everything around you seems to be whirling at a million miles an hour, but yoga can help.

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24 Feb
Posted by Nikola Ellis

How yoga nidra saved my life. Twice.

When I was 21 I had a nervous breakdown. Well, that’s what the doctor said. A toxic combination of untreated depression, exam worries and self-medication with a variety of substances tipped me into a year of hell.


Nobody knew what to do with me. The doctors prescribed drugs, my mother ran out of ideas (for the first time in her life) and most of my friends drifted away when they realized things weren’t going back to normal any time soon.

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02 Feb
Posted by Nikola Ellis

The day i lost my yoga students


At first, I thought it was the weather – a wet week often sees student numbers drop at the yoga studio. Then the sun came out, but the students didn’t return.


In my heart of hearts, I knew why my students had gone. I was a rotten teacher. I hadn’t started off that way. My passion for sharing the healing magic of yoga had seen my classes numbers build, with many students coming back term after term.


But things had changed and I knew I wasn’t giving my students what they needed. I couldn’t. I had nothing left to give.

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18 Jan
Posted by Nikola Ellis

Yoga for back pain? NO deep forward bends. Please.

Stretching can feel great when your back muscles are tight. But deep forward bends are not the way to tackle chronic back pain. In fact, it can make things worse.

An increasing number of yoga teachers are recommending long, deep forward bends for lower back pain. Ask most new-ish yoga teachers how to help a sore lower back and they’re likely to pick a forward bend to 'release' the back. That’s a problem. Especially if there are bulging intervertebral discs involved. Worse still is the emphasis placed on holding the forward bend and the lack of focus on moving safely out of it. Injuries are much more likely to occur during the transition into and, especially after a deep forward bend, out of a position, rather than while holding the posture itself.

So how can yoga help somebody with lower back pain and bulging discs? There are two key steps:

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17 Jan
Posted by Nikola Ellis

Cooling yoga for hot days

Are you feeling the heat? I love hanging out at the beach with my kids in summer, but take me away from the cooling sea breeze and I get a bit hot under the collar (translation: grumpy). Maybe it's something to do with being English, but when the temperature soars, I need to cool down quickly!

Yoga offers some great tools to beat the heat, from cooling breathing techniques to diet and lifestyle changes. I've been practicing Sitali this week, a cooling pranayama (breathing technique) that never fails to beat the heat. If you feel irritable, drowsy or hot and bothered in summer, you can use Sitali throughout the day to take the heat out of things and leave you feeling calm, cool and in control. This video will show you how with a simple, step by step guide!

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