New Year Yoga Standing Sequence

Happy New Year! And welcome to the start of a new decade!

As a thank you for your participation and your readership, we offer you this new year’s yoga standing sequence – asanas you can do anywhere, while you’re on the go, while you’re waiting in line for the Silvester party, or simply for a night in of self-reflection and evaluation. Each pose is accompanied by a question to help guide your process of letting go of what you want to leave behind and make room for what the new decade brings. Enjoy!

tadasana

Mountain Pose:
What is my support / foundation?

chi yoga

Golden Rooster:
What can I peacefully confront?

warrior1

Warrior I :
What are my­­ obstacles?

revolved side angle

Twisted / Revolved Side Angle:
What can I let go of?

warrior2Warrior II:
How can I prepare for surprises?
inverted warriorInverted Warrior:
What are the oppositional forces I encounter?
extended side angleExtended Side Angle:
Where can I find leverage?
forward foldWide-legged Forward Fold:
How do things look from another perspective?
warrior3Warrior III:
How to balance in the face of resistance?
dancer2Dancer:
Can I reach higher?
balanceBalance:
In what ways can I leave my comfort zone?
surrenderSurrender:
In what ways can I give in or let go?

At English Yoga Berlin, we offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli. Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcome to beginners, people struggling with chronic pain. We also offer Berlin business yoga, and private yoga classes, as well as queer and trans prioritized community classes.

Berlin Yoga Gift Card

“For it is in giving that we receive.” — Francis of Assisi

Berlin Yoga Gift Card

Berlin Yoga Gift Card

 

This December is full of many things – an end of a decade, as well as the darkest days drawing upon us, both politically and celestially. Holidays of various religious and non-religious affiliation draw us together, but for those of us with complicated relationships to or without family, it can feel even more stressful or depressive. A consumer culture encourages us to buy more things to fill the void or fulfill gift-giving obligations, which seem to miss the point of honestly giving something to someone we love.

A nice dinner, a visit to the hammam, or a guided tour are a few gift ideas for those who’d like to give something that does not contribute to Co2 emissions through the shipping of packages, or add more waste to the world by purchasing more plastic gadgets that nobody actually needs. If you’re at a loss for an idea for a friend who likes yoga, why not a Berlin yoga gift card? At English Yoga Berlin we offer them all year round.

And if you feel you need a special place to go inwards for yourself during this dark holiday season, why not come and try out a class in our candle-lit cozy and warm Kreuzberg yoga studio.

Please take a look at our up-to-date schedule for our holiday closures.

English Yoga Berlin offers yoga gift cards for one or more Hatha yoga and Vinyasa yoga classes. You can buy them at our yoga studio in Kreuzberg, or online.

6 Simple things to fight the flu season

Those of us who live in the 52nd latitude are well aware that when winter comes the days grow shorter, and our lovely sun is not giving us as much vitamin D to feed our immune system. And as the weather gets colder and wetter, more people pack themselves into crowded transportation rather than ride their (t)rusty wire donkeys. Being the international city that it is, Berlin gives one’s immune system a workout, with germs coming from all over the world, rather than the ones we grew up with and learned to adapt to. A challenge I gratefully accept because I believe that learning about, and adapting to, all kinds of different cultures (including those as small as the ones that take up habitat inside my gut) is what keeps me strong, flexible and ready for other things that come my way. So I compiled a list of 6 simple things to fight the flu season that have worked for me to keep my immune system strong during these cold and dark months.

staying warm during winter

Wear layers to regulate body temperature

1. Layers

Moving in-between different temperatures is a good recipe to foster cold and flu bugs. Dressing warmly is necessary for being outside, but then with a heavy sweater or coat on inside, sweating can promote their growth. For me, what works is wearing layers. I can regulate my body temperature by removing one or more layers depending on how warm or cool a place is kept. For instance, grocery stores tend to be cooler than a city bus.

2. Deep Breaths

While standing to wait in the cold, we have a tendency to hunch the shoulders up to stay warm. But this actually has the opposite effect, and can result in tension in the neck and shoulders. Hunching up restricts the lungs and causes more shallow breaths. This cools the body down even more. Not only does breathing deeply and slowly warm up the body, but it also helps more oxygen and other nutrients to move through the whole cardiovascular system, hence strengthening the immune system. Exhaling slowly has also been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Also very helpful in these busy, end of the year days. So, in addition to wearing layers, I make sure to wear a big scarf to keep my neck warm. Then I can let my shoulders relax down and lengthen up my torso to widen my chest and take deep breaths.

3. Drink fluids

Tea, tea, and more tea. That’s all I’m going to say. No, seriously. It warms me up, and flushes out any built-up toxins. Just plain water is good too, of course. Hot cocoa and coffee can also be very nice. But if I feel myself coming down with a cold, I’ll try to eliminate any sugars, because it can lower the immune system’s response.

4. Sleep, rest

My body’s circadian rhythm is somehow very attuned to how dark it is outside. It tells me I need more sleep and rest during these months of 16 hours of daily darkness. I wonder what it would be like if I lived in northern Sweden? I may not always listen to my body, but when I do I feel more rested.

5. Exercise

I’m riding my bike less and less, so I try to compensate for the lack of cardio by walking more and going to dance classes. I also prefer to walk the stairs instead of taking the escalator. It not only feels good on my cardiovascular system, but also for my mental health.

6. Public spaces

I don’t use hand sanitizer so often. After playing ball with the dog, or when there’s no hot water or soap in a public washroom, it’s quite useful. But I try to avoid it if possible, so as not to remove the helpful bacteria that my body needs. I feel quite blessed that I have a strong immune system (well, I have a few chronic conditions that I struggle with, but on the whole I’m rather healthy). I *can* move through public spaces and hold handrails, and somehow manage to not get sick. But I know people who would get sick instantly. Carrying around hand sanitizer would be a definite benefit. But I also find for myself, that avoiding touching my own face in public also helps. If I’ve been traveling around on public transit, when I finally get a chance to I’ll wash my hands.

At English Yoga Berlin we offer small classes for more personalised practice and private yoga lessons. Juli‘s yoga classes in English are a slow Vinyasa Flow yoga / Svastha yoga mix. Contact us here to learn more and book a private session, or check our classes schedule to participate in a group class at our Kreuzberg yoga studio.

Terminology Tuesday: are mindfulness and meditation the same thing?

I often hear people use the terms mindfulness and meditation interchangeably. Are they, though, the same thing?

So let’s look at these two terms.

Mindfulness

photo by Fern

I define mindfulness as the practice of having one’s mind fully present in any activity or inactivity that they are performing. The English term was originally created by the Buddhist scholar T.W. Rhys Davids at the beginning of the 20th century. Later on, this term was used by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his popular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. He defines mindfulness as ‘the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.’

Many mindfulness practices increase the ability to attain this state of mind. One example is the practice of mindfulness walks whilst using a modified version of  the 54321 technique.  This is one of my favorite mindfulness practices that I always include in our English Yoga Berlin retreats.

Meditation

Meditation, on the other hand, is the practice of letting the mind quiet down from thoughts and worries. It is experiencing ones’ own presence beyond the mind. It requires sitting (or if necessary laying down) and purposefully creating a space to practice. In the Vedantic tradition, there are two types of yogic meditations: saguna and nirguna.

In the saguna meditation, the meditator focuses on one thing only (be it a mandala, the breath, a candle flame). The meditator keeps the mind anchored on this focal point. Think of the mind as a bird that flies from one thought to the next.  Eventually the bird gets tired and needs to rest on a branch. The one focal point of saguna meditation is the branch for the bird-mind to rest on. In nirguna meditation, the meditator focuses on abstract concepts that are indescribable, such as Existence, Cosmic Love, Consciousness and fuses themselves into the object of meditation.  In both ways of meditating the focus is to sharpen the mind into being able to focus on and experience only one thing,  be it something concrete or something abstract.

So what is the difference?

The main difference between mindfulness and meditation is that mindfulness can be applied to any activity and although the mind is fully present in what it is doing, there is still motion in the action of doing. Whilst in meditation one creates a space  where one sits and practices bringing the mind to an inactivity so that it remains settled only on one thing. Of course, a meditation practice will increase your mindfulness awareness in your everyday activities, and a mindfulness practice, on the other hand, will  also help you settle in quickly into meditation. These two go hand in hand strengthening each other, which I believe, is why people often confuse them.

Pinelopi specializes in Hatha Yoga. Her yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. She offers Berlin business yogaprivate yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain, yoga courses and workshops.  She is currently deepening her knowledge through Leslie  Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy course and training to become an Alexander Technique teacher.

Let’s all join the global climate strike on september 20th – yogis included

Why care about the climate crisis?

There are many reasons to care about the climate crisis and show your support through joining the global climate strike on September 20th. Among them, of course, are caring for our planet, leaving a livable world for the future generations and understanding the pain that the world is already in and will continue to increase astronomically in the next 80 years.

These reasons are enough in and of themselves.

A yogic point of view to joining the climate strike.

Photo by Jacob Owens on Unsplash

Although the reasons mentioned above should be enough, nonetheless, I will add a yogic point of view. Our current Western lifestyles violate nearly all of the yamas and niyamas (yogic ethics) which are the two first pillars of yoga.  There is a reason why the Yamas and Niyamas come before the asanas (yoga poses), and pranayama (breathing techniques). One can do as many sun salutations as one wants but that is not enough to change the world.  Ethical living both at the private level and at the systemic level will.

AHIMSA (non violence) is the first Yama that requires of every yogi to “first do no harm”. Our current ways of life harm our planet in multiple ways.

SATYA (truthfulness) requires of us to be truthful to what is really here. The climate. crisis. is. here. and our window to do something about it is closing.

ASTEYA (non stealing, non hoarding) requires of us to stifle greed. It requires of the yogi to ask themselves again and again: “do I really need this?” We simply can not afford to live this consumerist way of life anymore.

In a capitalist world, where we are led to believe that “the grass is always greener on the other side”,  APARIGRAHA (non comapring) and SANTOSHA (contentment) would be the end of capitalism.  The idea of  “I am enough” and I do not need to acquire more or  become more like my neighbor, is both incredibly old and radical all at once.

SAUCHA (cleanliness inside and out) requires of our bodies and mind to be clean.  But how is that possible when our water is polluted, our meat consumption is one of the main causes of the climate crisis itself and our forests are burning?  We need to use TAPAS (willpower, discipline) to focus our energies to bringing change.

SVADHYAYA is about active self-reflection, traditionally in understanding the holy scriptures of yoga. These scriptures guide us to the understanding that “All is One”.  We can not possibly understand this at a deep level while poisoning the Earth simultaneously.

I am already doing all I can, so why join with others in a strike?

It is easy, however, to make all of this into a private individual problem when the truth is that changes in individual consumption practices and attitudes are simply not enough to tackle the problem. We need to change the system at a much deeper level.  And that is why we invite every single one of you to join us at the global climate strike on September 20th. We all need to be there. Together.

Will striking really help anything?

And yes, there will be some of us who will say, “All this action comes too late, this can not be stopped, so why act?”. Here I will quote Tara Brach , in what I consider to be a version of the last niyama ISHVARA PRANIDAHNA (surrender):

“We want to feel that it is possible to save our Earth in order to make a step. Otherwise it is very easy to feel like resigning.  But the truth is, we do not know (if saving the Earth is possible). We just do not know. I like the way Wendell Berry puts it. He says: “We don’t have a right to ask if we are going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is what is the right thing to do? What does this Earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?” Thomas Merton puts it this way: “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the facts that your work may be apparently worthless and even achieve no results at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the VALUE, the RIGHTNESS, the TRUTH of the work itself.


Did you know that your website can also join the climate strike? Click  here to find out how.


“We, at English Yoga Berlin, offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer pregnancy yoga and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain. We will of course be at the climate strike and wish to see you there too.”

Thinking about leaving a yoga class?

Leaving a yoga class

Contemporary western Post-Krishnamacharya yoga claims to be about self-care, so when something’s feeling not right in a yoga class, a participant may take the initiative to leave in the middle of it. In a large yoga class, at a fitness studio for example, where there are many participants crammed into a big space, it may hardly be noticeable. But when it’s in a small room with fewer participants, it could cause a disruption of the community atmosphere that the teacher is trying to create.

Yoga as community

When choosing to attend a yoga class, one is choosing to be led by an experienced teacher in a shared space with other participants. This creates a temporary community yoga experience, if not one over a longer time when practicing with the same people week after week. A yoga teacher attempts to create a shared experience for that group of participants that invites each of them to practice finding balance in mind and body in a room with other people. Feeling part of that community contributes to that balance. The yoga teacher’s job is to not only lead the yoga practice, but to also create a balanced and safe(r) community experience. If someone leaves the class, it can not only create a disruption, but may also signal that a disruption has already occurred.

Creating a safe(r) space

Most yoga teachers have experienced a participant leaving their class at least once in their teaching, and can understand that a person is just taking care and honouring their own needs in the moment. But if it happens regularly, it might be a good idea to check-in and evaluate teaching methods – perhaps asking for feedback from participants, especially from those who have left a class, or upgrading teaching skills.

What is it a teacher can improve upon in creating an environment where participants feel safe, seen and respected?

For every community, what that looks like could be different. At English Yoga Berlin, we’re committed to the practice of Ahimsa (non-harming) and injury-conscious yoga. At our space, we’ve put up a sign of guidelines for a safer space, and provide consent cards for permission to be touched during the class. What are other ways of doing this? We’d be happy to hear about your strategies in the comments below.

Self-care

When a participant leaves a yoga class, they’ve most likely gone through a thought process to decide whether it’s the best thing for them to do in the moment. They’ve made the time for themselves, and have likely already paid for the class, in order to practice self-reflection and self-care. And what they realize in those first moments of the class, is that whatever they’re doing is not helping them achieve that. It could be that the community is not right for them, or something happened or didn’t in order for them to feel safe, or they felt harmed in one way or another.

I, myself, have left a meditation class once because a fellow participant was behaving in a sexist manner towards me and the teacher did nothing to stop it. I felt directly harmed by the environment created in the room and would not be able to stay through the whole class without continuing to be harmed. This was a weekly class that I had been attending for a long time, and it was offering me relief from my struggle with endometriosis. I felt that my healing process was disrupted by this guy’s behaviour and the fact that the teacher just brushed it off. I couldn’t go back. If I’d thought there was something I could learn from this experience, I might’ve stayed. After having just finished the Svastha Yoga Therapy advanced teacher training program, I’ve learned a lot about sitting through discomfort and examining my own participation in it. In this case, what I could’ve learned was to gather more strength and resilience against sexism. But I also wanted to show to people (him and the teacher) that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it. No need to be a doormat!

Fight or Flight?

Yoga teaches us about balance, and how we react to behaviour in ourselves and in others around us. Sometimes the best way to learn about ourselves is to feel discomfort, to dive into those feelings of unknown territory. If we are resilient enough in the moment to do so, we can come out of that experience transformed. But if we flee too soon without examining what it is about a certain experience that bothers us, it might show us that we are afraid to address this part of ourselves that has taken us here. The amygdala, which governs our fight-or-flight response through the vagus nerve, is designed to be over-active, urging us to flee or be on guard at the slightest hint of danger. It’s a great instinct that was designed into the human structure when we needed to be on the constant look-out for predators. Yes, there are dangers in our current world – and for some of us those are real and life-threatening. But when we haven’t fully addressed those dangers, when we repress them, or don’t have the means to recover from them, then everything that reminds us of them will trigger the vagus nerve, even when those dangers are no longer there. If we continue to flee when that response comes up, we will never recover. The only way to do so, is to meet with it, understand it, and move through it. Self-care isn’t about taking care of immediate gratifying desires, but about knowing when to guide oneself through uncomfortable moments in order to expand one’s understanding of themselves and their interactions with the world.

We at English Yoga Berlin offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa flow yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcome to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.”

Just Breathe


what do we need in times of stress?

There is this one thing that people say when you are in a great amount of stress. They look at you and say “Hey! Just breathe, just breathe!!!”

People’s advice

People give this wonderful advice, “just breathe.”  There might be great value in that. Sometimes it can be helpful.  Yet often you can feel a lot of frustration bouncing back at you (or them!).  Sometimes this advice brings out feelings of incompetence for the one receiving it, such as “Am I stupid? Why can’t I even breathe properly now!”

‘Just breathe’ is not necessarily a helpful phrase for someone who is stressed.

The issue with generalisations

When following a recognized prescribed method – the one that states “if you just breathe you will get through it” – you might find out that it actually brings you more pain, because you are breathing in a specific stressed pattern.  Deciding to just change the way you breathe in order to change what you feel might also become repressive.  It becomes a feeling that you are trying to manipulate, rather than a feeling to experience and go through – a potentially problematic approach.

Changing the way of breathing

‘Breathe through it’ might be a more helpful way of framing it.  But what exactly does it mean to breathe ‘through things’? Could it be that it means to change the way you are breathing?  Every emotion has a specific breathing pattern,  so if you change the way you are breathing to long deep breaths, then could it be that you are also changing your emotion? That is a big possibility. That is partly why we are instructed to take long deep breaths in a yoga class.

Observing the way you are breathing

Another way of working with breath through difficult or intense emotions is offered in Tara Brach’s RAIN meditation.  In this case, we wouldn’t necessarily change the way we are breathing.  Rather, we would become aware of the way we are breathing.  We could raise our awareness by observing the breath: is it a short inhalation?… or a forceful exhalation?… is there a pause after the inhalation?.. and a different pause after the exhalation?… which pause is longer? This way, we learn to dettach ourselves from the breathing as it is and we raise our awareness. By raising our awareness, the breathing will eventually calm down without forcing anything.

You can put your hand on your chest to make contact with your heart and your breath

 

Those are two possibilities of how breathing would be able to help in times of hardship. One is in the laboratory conditions of a yoga class, where the teacher asks you to get into a “stressful” position, like upside down and tells you ‘now breathe’. That is an example of practicing breathing under stressful conditions.  The other is to observe your breathing without changing it, while accepting without judgement what is happening to you.

We at English Yoga Berlin offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.”

Yoga Beyond Asana

One of our regulars shares a particular moment; when she realised the dimension of yoga beyond asana (movement and set poses).  We share her personal story because this is one of the hardest myths about yoga to dismantle in the West.

“There are 8 limbs to Yoga, you know” the Yoga teacher kindly reminded me at the end of the lesson.

open window

 

I had just waited for everyone to leave at the end of the class.  I approached her with my concern that the movement I can muster now can hardly be called yoga – in my mind.  The doctor diagnosed degenerative osteoarthritis at the left hip.  After a decade from that diagnosis, I can’t sit crossed legged, or hold a Warrior I pose, or Crescent Moon pose, the list goes on.

But the Yoga teacher was having none of it.  She went on to say that, contrary to Western trends, yoga has at its heart the intention of liberating us from pain and restriction.  Our practice is meant to deliver us to a place where we can meditate freely and deeply.

“There is pranayama, for example, becoming conscious of breath”.

She wasn’t suggesting even for a minute that I would not do asana practice any longer.  She was helping me into taking ownership of where I can guide my own practice towards.  I was clearer on what aspects I can focus on, where I can find challenges and limitations I can learn from.

pranayama

you can do so much with your breath, remember?

Yoga goes beyond asana as we understand it.  Maybe that is closer to my experience now. Yoga for me is a field where I can find what works for me, right now in the modern world, with my unique needs and requirements.

I have been practising yoga at English Yoga Berlin in Kreuzberg since April 2018.  I now understand the importance of focusing on directing the breath and becoming conscious of spinal movement.  It’s clear to me that yoga is not about trying to reproduce the asana’s picture in your favourite yoga book. Yoga can be  so much more! And I look forward to diving deeper to learn more about what that is.

English Yoga Berlin offers classes in Kreuzberg in Hatha style and Vinyasa style, private yoga sessions, different packages of yoga for the workplacecontact us with your queries if you have any, happy unfolding whatever you do.

The Puzzle Picture

Avidal's painting on flyer

We believe Yoga to be a powerful tool that helps us assemble the pieces of our Life’s puzzle and allows us to see the big picture.

Ever wondered what the “Puzzle Picture” on our flyers means? Clelia, our Erasmus intern, reports from behind the scenes.

 

The image representing English Yoga Berlin left a deep impression on me from the first time I saw it.  It is the painting of an almost complete puzzle.  The puzzle image is of a person completing their own puzzle.  It’s an image within an image.  A puzzle of a puzzle.  I was curious, and I asked Pinelopi, my teacher of yoga in Kreuzberg.  The story she told me really resonated with me.  I want to share it with you, so here what she said.

“One day I met with my friend and artist Avital Yomdin, and told her I needed to design a flyer for my classes.  We sat and talked about what yoga means to me.  I spoke about what yoga had done for me in my life.  I realised something important as we were speaking: when I began yoga, I knew very little about my physical chronic pain.  Crucially, I also knew very little about myself, for example the space I take, the person I transform into every day.

Through the yoga classes, meditation and mindfulness techniques, I started to understand and accept myself more and more.  I am not anywhere close to knowing myself completely, as that might be, who knows, ultimate enlightenment.  Yet I feel that the process of doing yoga was like finding the pieces of the puzzle of myself, so I could put them together.  Slowly, I could form a picture of  who I am.”

 

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Accepting positive feelings

I love the idea of meditating on positive feelings too – have you ever thought about it? It’s about honouring those precious moments and learn from them.

RAIN meditation

Tara Brach’s RAIN

I have learned about “the RAIN of Self-Compassion” from an English Yoga Berlin class in Kreuzberg.  It’s a particular mindfulness practice that helps us to work through difficult emotions.  It is a Buddhist meditation that was later on tweaked by Tara Brach.  Read more about it here, where you can explore a wealth of resources made available by Tara’s website.

Being present to our feelings

I wanted to share how differently it landed for me one particular evening.  I connected that kind of meditation to difficult feelings only.  But that day in particular, I was feeling so blessed and grateful (for everything in my life) and I was trying to skip those feelings, not allowing them to be, felt awkward – with a thought like life needs to be hard to be meaningful and to make a difference, something like that.  Then I got anxious.

When the meditation found me in the evening, laying in Savasana, I was able to apply acceptance, understanding and nurturing to positive feelings too.  I was able to welcome them and be present to what they were telling me.

When I reflected upon it later, I realised that maybe positive feelings is not necessarily the right word.  We are talking about feelings that are challenging in other ways.  The excitement of anticipation can be tiring or distracting.  The feeling you want to explode from love or tenderness can be overwhelming.  They are all feelings that have that sensation that the cup of emotion being very full and is about to overflow… in a positive way.. but overflow.

Finding out that RAIN works for them too was very comforting. It’s as if the feeling is not out of control and overflowing, but I can sit with it in a steady glowing way. I think it reminds me of a fire. It can be consumed real quick and glamorously fast, or it can burn steady and for a while giving heat for a longer time.

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.