Category Archives: Asana

Get strong with the Peacock Tree Yoga 21-day Plank Challenge! #peacocktreeplank21days

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Ready to take up the Peacock Tree Yoga 21-day Plank Challenge?

We'd love to see your creative planking too!

We’d love to see your creative planking too!

Following our hugely successful 7-day #peacocktreelent, we’re upping the ante and challenging you to build yourself up to a three-minute plank, over the course of 21 days!

Why we run the Peacock Tree Yoga 21-day Plank Challenge

The Peacock Tree 21-day plank challenge is your opportunity to create strength in both body and mind; to develop your will power – and build a core of steel in the process. And it’s perfect for powering us up as we move into the firey months of the year!

It’s not as hard as it sounds – you just need to build up gradually by following the plan. But beware – once you’ve discovered your potential, there’ll be no stopping you!!

Print off the 21-day Plank Challenge practice sheet , stick it to the fridge, and while you wait for the kettle to boil at the start or end of the day, for example, get on your yoga mat and plank like there’s no tomorrow!

The Peacock Tree Yoga 21-day Plank Challenge schedule

Keeping track of your progress

Can't afford a hunky PT? Never mind, we'll support you! #peacocktreeplank21days

Can’t afford a hunky PT? Never mind, we’ll support you! #peacocktreeplank21days

Try your best to meet your daily goals – and give yourself a sense of satisfaction each time, by ticking the relevant box (as flamboyantly as you wish!). And let us know how it’s going – post your photos and films on Instagram and Facebook – but don’t forget to tag them with #peacocktreeplank21days!

Oh, and if you want to give us and your fellow students a laugh, feel free to get playful with it – find a strange location to practice, do it in your work clothes, or try some plank variations!

But above all, enjoy it – be grateful for what your body is allowing you to do (even on days when your body doesn’t allow you to meet your goal), really feel how your body is changing and becoming stronger, and join in with our online conversations for support and motivation throughout the challenge. Not part of our Facebook community? Come into the fold!

Not sure how to do plank properly?

The simplest, safest and easiest way to build yourself up to a three minute plank is to adopt dolphin plank, which involves resting on your forearms with elbows bent, rather than on your hands and with straight arms. Keep your toes tucked under and your body and legs off the floor, in a strong horizontal line (like a plank!).

Plank

Is your plank straight?

If you find it too difficult to hold the full posture, drop your knees to the floor for extra support – just make sure your thighs and torso are in a straight line. And do try to lift your knees again as the challenge progresses – you might surprise yourself!

If your neck hurts, you can always place a block or a stack of books beneath your face and rest your forehead on it while you hold the posture.

If you’re familiar with plank and other core strength exercises, you might like to work on some plank variations – be it a high plank, a side plank, or an acro yoga plank…

Beware of a cheating bottom!

Your biggest foe during this challenge will be your bottom. It will either try to cheat, by being higher than the rest of your body, or it will be lazy, sagging down to create an unwelcome dip in the centre of the posture.

Not sure if you have a cheating or lazy bottom? Then check yourself out in a mirror or ask someone else to tell you if your body is in a straight line.

Ready? Okay, download the The Peacock Tree Yoga 21-day Plank Challenge schedule and get planking!!

The cool winds of vata…

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If you’ve noticed an increasing sense of unease lately, and have been feeling scattered, exhausted and anxious, then you’re probably wondering why – and worrying if it will ever end.  The good news is, it will, but maybe not until Spring – unless you choose to make some adjustments now. And how do you do that? Well, as Bob Dylan so memorably put it, the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

bob dylan album cover for PTY vata blog

Bob knows all about vata

It’s typical at this time of the year – when the Autumn winds are shaking down the trees and Winter’s long fingers begin to give us an icy poke, as though warning us of an impending deep freeze – for our bodies to respond. We can feel stiff and fragile, we might experience difficulty sleeping, and develop dry skin – as though the wind and cool temperatures are shaking us down, too. And when our bodies feel under assault, so do our minds.

According to the ancient science of Ayurveda (a system for maintaining physical and mental wellbeing, which developed alongside yoga and is considered its sister science), when we experience these changes, it’s due to an excess of ‘vata’.  The cooler months of the year are renowned for creating this effect.

What is vata?

Vata is one of the three doshas, or types of energy, which Ayurvedic science tells us each person is made up of (the others are ‘kapha’ and ‘pitta’). None of us are the same, according to this theory; we’re all composed of different amounts of each dosha – and it’s a matter of maintaining our individual constitution in order to maintain optimum health. If you’re curious to know your dosha type, you can find out very easily and for free on the Chopra Center website (in return for your email address).

For our purposes, the point is this: whether vata plays a dominant role in your make-up or not, Autumn and Winter still have plenty of potential for creating excessive amounts of this fast and flighty kind of energy – an energy which, when in balance fuels our creativity and vitality, makes us quick and bright, joyful and active, but causes fear and anxiety when in excess – as well as countless other symptoms, as listed in this article from Svastha Ayurveda, a holistic healthcare practice based in Colorado.

‘That which moves things’

Windmills and vata

Vata in balance brings joy, not stress

So, what to do with all this ‘vata’ swirling around in the November air, moving through us and within us? Well one thing we can do is play vata at her own game. If we translate the word ‘vata’ from Sanskrit to English, we get ‘that which moves things’ – and therein lies the answer: we move – mindfully. In doing so, we soothe the nervous system whilst generating lubricating and nourishing heat in the body.

A fluid, yet grounding yoga asana practice, such as the one we’ll be working on in our classes this week, offers us the perfect way to raise the temperature and focus the mind. But it’s not only the healing effects of asana that yoga brings to the Ayurvedic table. Pranayama, meditation and relaxation also help to stop our swirling thoughts, our fluttery stomachs, our shortness of breath. In short, yoga can help us remain calm, joyful, warm and secure, in even the strongest of winds.

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the yoga student adjusts the sails” ~ William Arthur Ward (paraphrased!)

The Spirit of Halloween Yoga

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Peacock Tree Yoga students are always encouraged (nay, forced!) to don a cape, some fangs or a pair of pointy ears for classes that fall on Halloween, and this year is no exception. But more than anything, we want our students to try on a few asana ‘costumes’, at home and in our classes – with the intention to experience the stories, the symbols and the qualities associated with each.

A Halloween yoga practice

Peacock Tree teachers leading by example!

Peacock Tree teachers leading by example!

If you aren’t sure what qualities are associated with different poses, you can go with intuition, your experience, and your imagination. What does a boat pose mean to you – the ability to go on new journeys, and greet change and with an adventurous heart? The ability to stay afloat during difficult times? What does plank pose mean to you – the qualities of a strong foundation: steadiness, the ability to withstand pressure, the readiness to be used in the service of a great plan?

We can take the theme of Halloween to the very end of our yoga practice. In Savasana (which, aptly, translates as corpse pose), take a moment to focus on people from the past who you admire – it can renew your sense of purpose in life and give your motivation a tremendous boost. This, after all, is what Halloween started out as.

In memory of…

pumpkin with om symbol

P’ommmm’pkin

Traditionally, the eve before All Saints Day – an active one in the Spirit Realm – involved dressing up in period clothes of ancestors whose admirable characteristics remained in their descendants’ memories, long after their physical bodies dissolved into the earth.

The ancient Celts believed the border between this world and the spirit world became thin on Samhain, allowing ‘ghosts’ (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home, while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks celebrating the lives of the more favourable ones.

Good or bad, it’s up to you

halloween yoga costume

Trick or treat?

By using the theme of Halloween to steer our yoga practice, we are able to retain a sense of what Halloween was traditionally about. By all means, go to a party, drink ‘blood’ punch and do the Time Warp (again). But make time, too, to bring the special quality of this time of year, and its inherent traditions, to your mat.

It is true that the celebrations of All Hallows Eve, or as we call it now, Halloween, has become quite different from its origins and can be the subject of debate and controversy. But by applying the teachings of yoga – to strive to reach a place in our minds and our hearts that causes us to radiate peace, happiness, and every kind of positive energy – the traditions of Halloween can help bring about good physical and emotional health, which affects everyone and everything around us.

Imagination in life is our most powerful tool.


 

Halloween waits . . . (a poem about Halloween by Lilley Harvey)

The night before November 5th, I spied a wretched Halloween,

Half fall, half flight, her step was swift

Her time was echoes, thin as wind

then midnight chimed

and brilliant, vermillion, Fire grinned.

“I waited,” she smiled.

They kissed with lips aflame and then she died.

Guest blog: A lesson in backbends

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Before going any further, I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who showed up for the backbending classes I taught during the last week of July – it was an absolute delight to be amongst you and absorb some of that unique Peacock Tree Yoga kula spirit! I’m also very grateful for your lovely feedback and am more than happy to share some of the techniques we explored in class, as requested by several students…

Snazzy videos and photos coming up – but please read the following first!!

This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to listen to your body – and, even more importantly, to respond to what it says. I would never have got so far with my backbends if I hadn’t decided to go easy on myself, and I daresay it’ll be the same for you. It’s also important to understand the reasons why backbends can hurt or instill a sense of panic, in order to appreciate the techniques I recommend for practising safely and effectively. So…

Why do backbends hurt?

  • It’s not usual for us to purposely open the front of the body! We spend most of our days ‘rounding’ our backs and closing our chests, which means neither our bodies or our minds know how to do proper backbends, often resulting in pain – usually a ‘pinching’ sensation in the lower back or neck.
  • The pain is generally caused by compression of the vertebrae – or, to be more specific, the spinous processes (the knobbly bits on your back) – squeezing against each other. When the back of the neck is compressed, the pain is often accompanied by a sense of panic because the body’s stress response has been activated.
  • Compression in the spine during backbends usually happens because of tightness in the front of the body (even sitting at a desk all day will contribute to this kind of thing), which limits our full range of movement. As a result, we end up over-using the parts of the spine that naturally bend backward – the neck and lower back.
  • To counter this tendency, we need to work on undoing the tightness in the front of the body. That way, we’re able to spread the backbend across the entire spine – and literally take the pressure off the lower back and neck!

A short safety announcement!

Throughout the sequence below, please keep the following points in mind:

  1. Maintain length (and avoid compression) in your lower back by lifting your hip bones up
  2. Lift your rib cage and chest ‘out’ of your pelvis
  3. Keep your neck in a neutral-to-flexed position until you have maximised the extension of your mid-upper back (see 2)
  4. Roll your shoulders back (unless you’re in a posture where your arms are overhead, such as full wheel)
  5. Take your head back last, and only go as far as your breath will let you – if you’re not breathing easily, you’re in danger of injuring your neck
  6. If something doesn’t feel right, STOP!

Backbending sequence

Sun salutations

Surya Namaskara A: Repeat 3 – 5 times, using the variation shown in the video below (instead of lifting the arms and folding forward straight away, there’s a small chest-opening movement to do, which becomes slightly more pronounced with each salutation – as the two repetitions in the film below demonstrate).

Surya Namaskara B: Repeat the standard form of Surya Namaskara B (if you need a reminder, have a look at Ashtanga teacher Rob Leadley’s cheat sheet) 2 – 3 times, and then follow the video below, for a variation on the sequence which helps to release tightness in the front of the body (the hip flexors, abdominal muscles, ribs, chest and shoulders). If it’s difficult to balance or to maintain an neutral pelvis in the lunge-based postures, you can always drop your back knee. Respect your limits.

Standing postures (hip openers)

It might not seem obvious to prepare for backbends by working into the hips, but it’s definitely worth spending some time on these sorts of postures because they give the hip flexors and groin muscles a good stretch – meaning greater extension across the front of the hips and less compression in the lower back during backbends! You can work through the following postures one by one or, if you know how, you can turn the sequence into a vinyasa flow, which will help keep your body and muscles warm, ready for some backbends.

Please click on the photos below and then scroll down to see the further instructions.

And NOW for some backbends!

Remember, stop when your body tells you to stop! You don’t have to do ALL of these postures or complete the suggested number of repetitions, where a number is stated. You can rest between postures too – but avoid bringing your knees directly into your chest (a deep, and in this case unwelcome, counter-stretch to a backbend); instead, take child’s pose with wide knees, or, if you need to lie down, try happy baby pose.

Please click on the photos below and then scroll down to see the further instructions.

Preparing for ‘drop-backs’*

*If you’re able to hold Urdhva Dhanurasana (full wheel) without splaying your knees and compressing your lower back, and your breath moves freely from your nose to your lungs, you might want to begin preparing your body for drop-backs. Otherwise, skip this part of the sequence and move onto the finishing postures.

Finishing postures

After an intense and sustained backbend practice, it’s essential to take some long, passive twists before folding forward again. Start by simply resting on your back with your legs propped up – knees together and feet apart – then move into a supine twist (arms in a ‘T’ shape, knees to one side, and your gaze on the opposite hand). Hold the twist for at least a minute on each side, making small adjustments as your spinal muscles begin to relax. Afterwards, you can either hug your knees to your chest or roll up to sitting for a loose forward fold (knees bent). After that, it’s time to lie down for a well-deserve 5 or 10 minutes in savasana – possibly with a bolster or cushion beneath your knees.

Namaste!


Katy Wright established her yoga practice at the age of 17, during an unusually warm British summer, which she spent outside, working her way through a manual she picked up in a cheap book shop. Fifteen years later, she undertook her teacher training with Union Yoga in Edinburgh, and began teaching as part of the Peacock Tree Yoga team, alongside her job as a journalist with the BBC. Now, as a freelance copywriter, Katy continues to explore the wisdom of yoga in her personal practice and in her blog, The Cat on the Mat.

One drop-back and two steps forward

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Ever wondered how some yoga practitioners manage to move into drop-backs with ease and grace? Or, indeed, how one could possibly delight in any kind of backbend? If you have, you’re not alone; backbends induce fear in lots of people – and Peacock Tree Yoga guest teacher, Katy Wright, was once amongst them. Now, she says she’d go as far as saying she loves all backbends – they put her on her true path, after all…

People often speak about the transformational power of yoga and, as a yoga teacher, I’m always quick to point out the benefits of the practice. But it wasn’t until I opened myself up to backbends that I truly understood how potent drop-backs and other chest-opening postures can be.

Now, I can say without hesitation that backbends offer us freedom from both physical and emotional constraints – which is a crucial part of realising our full potential. And when we realise our potential, we’re following our dharma – we’re in the flow of life and things feel easier, as though there’s an unseen force supporting us on our journey.

Opening up with backbends

drop-back prep

Finding ease in backbends helped me find ease in daily life…

On a physical level, our day-to-day lives are generally rather closed. We sit in our cars, at our desks, on our sofas – shoulders forward, back slumped, core and chest compressed. Backbends counteract those tendencies and habits by opening the front of the body, allowing us greater ease and comfort in our movements and in stillness.

Want more? See ‘A lesson in backbends

In terms of emotions, when we feel upset, fearful or vulnerable, we sometimes develop habits of thought and behaviour which we believe will help us avoid encountering further pain or loss; we ‘close’ our hearts. By expanding and opening our chests, backbends help us break down these emotional barriers and let the sun shine inside of us, too – as my own story illustrates…

What Katy Did

Until a few years ago, any attempt I made to drop back into Urdhva Dhanurasana resulted in a blinding headache, and this was often accompanied by tears and an overall sense of panic. Then one day in 2013, I decided it was time to alter my approach – not realising that this would trigger a whole sequence of events which would completely change my life.

So what did I alter exactly? My attitude, is the simple answer. I stopped expecting – or, more truthfully, forcing – my body to fulfill my desire to ‘complete’ this element of the Ashtanga finishing sequence. Dropping back was no longer my goal; the focus, from this point, was on being gentle with my body and understanding its limits.

Over time, I began to treat the rest of myself with more compassion, too. I stopped judging myself in the way I feared others were judging me, and I started to realise that my ‘needs’ weren’t just hollow desires or things I didn’t deserve. I came to understand that they were essential for my personal evolution and preservation.

Just as I adapted my practice, I made step-by-step adjustments to my life. It wasn’t always easy, but I didn’t stop – not because I knew that my perseverance was leading me to the full expression of the posture, but because I knew it was leading me to the full expression of myself. As my physical and emotional barriers came down, I could ‘hear’ my heart’s desire with greater and greater clarity.

What Katy Did Next…

Ironically (or perhaps not), I did end up being able to drop-back with the kind of ease and grace I’d once envied in others. I even found myself dropping back with a gloriously open heart on the rooftop of a guesthouse in Southern Cambodia, mid-way through another long journey around some far flung corner of the world, as the video below shows! I’d always known I was one of those people who needed travel, to experience life elsewhere – and there I was, doing just that.

This is not to say that mastering drop-backs or any other type of backbend will automatically revolutionise your life as it did mine – at least, not on the outside. But I’m willing to state that a gradual and more self-respecting backbend practice has great potential to change your interior world for the better, at the very least.

Want to develop your backbend practice in a safe and effective way? Read this follow-up blog, which contains instructional videos and photo sequences.


Katy Wright established her yoga practice at the age of 17, during an unusually warm British summer, which she spent outside, working her way through a manual she picked up in a cheap book shop.Fifteen years later, she undertook her teacher training with Union Yoga in Edinburgh, and began teaching as part of the Peacock Tree Yoga team, alongside her job as a journalist with the BBC. Now, as a freelance copywriter, Katy continues to explore the wisdom of yoga in her personal practice and in her blog, The Cat on the Mat.

The 21-Day Plank Challenge

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Ushering in the Summer with the 21-day plank challenge

Don’t stop reading now – this is NOT an attempt to throw this Chinese policeman’s record-breaking eight-hour plank into a cocked hat, with your own three-week plank!

The Peacock Tree 21-day plank challenge is your opportunity to create strength in both body and mind, and set your Summer alight! And all with a 3-minute plank.

It’s not as hard as it sounds – you just need to build up gradually by following the plan (see link below) and ignoring the little voice telling you there are better things to be doing than building phenomenal core strength.

How to do plank

plank-challenge-collage

Don’t let your bottom cheat!!

For the challenge, we ask you to adopt dolphin plank, which involves resting on your forearms with elbows bent, rather than on your hands and with straight arms. Keep your toes tucked under and your body and legs off the floor, in a strong horizontal line (like a plank!).

If you find it too difficult to hold the full posture, drop your knees to the floor for extra support – just make sure your thighs and torso are in a straight line. And do try to lift your knees again as the challenge progresses – you might surprise yourself!

If your neck hurts, you can always place a block or a stack of books beneath your face and rest your forehead on it while you hold the posture.

How not to do plank

Your biggest foe during this challenge will be your bottom. It will either try to cheat, by being higher than the rest of your body, or it will be lazy, sagging down to create an unwelcome dip in the centre of the posture.

Not sure if you have a cheating or lazy bottom? Then check yourself out in a mirror or ask someone else to tell you if your body is in a straight line.

Action!

Print off the 21-day Plank Challenge practice sheet below, stick it to the fridge, and while you wait for the kettle to boil at the start or end of the day, for example, get on your yoga mat and plank like there’s no tomorrow!

21-Day Plank Challenge Practice Sheet

Keep going, stay focused, and keep your eyes on the prize! What’s the prize? The ability to hold plank for 3 minutes within 3 weeks, a core of steel and all the strength you’ll need for our next big Yin Yang workshop on June 4th – more details coming soon!

And when you waiver, just remember:

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain