Yoga came to me later in life. As a recent convert, I often feel like the oldest and baggiest in the class, but I love it. And it makes me feel better on a daily basis – more energetic, less stressed. But that’s no surprise. There is a mountain of evidence to prove the holistic health benefits of yoga. A recent study, with 18 peer-reviewed articles, showed the underlying effects of practising yoga and it was found to improve every-thing from circulation and hormones to fitness, as well as significantly decreasing stress levels.
At Psychologies HQ, we have one yoga class a week during the day, but I was finding it difficult to do more classes after work. So I started searching the internet for online classes and found Kat Farrants and her inspiring UK-based online yoga company, Movement for Modern Life. Within 24 hours, we’d arranged a meeting and we bonded big style. Kat had used yoga to transform her life – making a leap from a job that sucked her soul, plus using yoga to heal after a relationship breakdown. The thing that impressed me the most was Kat’s authenticity as well as her passion for the transformational power of yoga.
‘I believe that life really is better when we move more, breathe more deeply and start to live more consciously,’ says Kat. ‘Movement for me has been fundamental in healing deep physical and emotional wounds, as well as simply bringing joy into the day. I would love for people to experience these online classes as a tool in their toolbox for life.’ For me, the online courses work so well because I can easily get up half an hour earlier in the morning and do them at home. ‘There’s no need to wait until you drum up the courage to get to a studio, no need to look a certain way or fit into expensive yoga gear,’ agrees Kat, ‘just move – move in your PJs, move in your dodgy tracksuit bottoms.’
I have a drawer full of dodgy tracksuit bottoms at home, so I was delighted when Kat offered to create a 30-day transformational yoga course, exclusively for Psychologies. With teacher Zephyr Wildman (pictured), who has been teaching yoga since 2002 in London, everywhere from the Life Centre to The Recovery Centre (treatment centre for addiction, depression and other dependency problems), this 30-day course enables you to practise mindful movement, meditation and yoga every day for 10 to 30 minutes. Each daily practice is an exploration of the profound tenets of an ancient tradition, from self-knowledge and self-acceptance, to getting in touch with your body intelligence and letting go of old belief systems.
‘I know you might be cynical about anything with “30 days” and “transformation” in the title, but that is just enough time to set out a new approach to mental health and balance in our lives,’ says Wildman. ‘The ideas, concepts and techniques you will learn are life skills to be carried forward and aid us on our path to mental and emotional wellbeing. These life skills create a foundation for a disciplined and devoted practice of recommitting to ourselves as we go forward.’
I’d love it if you’d join us on our 30-day transformation course. I can’t wait to start. In the meantime, here are five powerful transformative exercises, created by Kat, to try over the next five days:
1: And breathe…
The most important exercise anyone can do is learn to breathe consciously, deeply and smoothly. Ujjayi breath, or ocean breath, is known for being very calming. With your hands either side of your ribcage, slowly breathe in through your nose and feel your hands moving away from each other, letting the ribcage expand. Make a noise at the back of your throat that sounds like the ocean. When you breathe out, your ribcage contracts again and your hands move closer together, the noise of the ocean in the back of your throat.
2: Catting about
It’s vital to keep your spine flexible and strong. Cat/cow is a simple but transformative move, using ocean breath with your movement. On all fours, inhale, then as you exhale, start the movement in the pelvis, tucking it in, contract your abdomen and dome your spine to the sky like a hissing cat, your head and neck tucking. On a slow exhale, release the neck so your head comes up, and vertebra by vertebra your spine concaves, with the tail bone finally rising to the sky. Repeat this slowly, with ocean breath, to free the spine, and the mind will follow.
3: Open your arms
A simple way to feel powerful is to move the arms with the breath, feeling the ocean breath powering each movement. With your hands in prayer position, take a second to feel gratitude for this moment. With an intention of gratitude, raise your hands above your head on a deep, slow ocean inhale. Exhale slowly and take your arms wide; they drop to your sides on the end of the exhale. As you inhale again, the arms come up through the middle of the body, through a prayer mudra (or conscious hand position) to the sky, and repeat.
4: Do the dog
Downward dog is a classic yoga pose and reverses the effects of gravity on the spine, lengthens the hamstrings, releases the neck, and strengthens the shoulders, upper body and core. Start on all fours, then as you exhale, move your pelvis back and start to straighten your knees, with your heels coming towards the ground. Tail bone stretches to the sky and your hands press into the ground to move your torso back towards your thighs. This is a complex pose, and there are instructions on how to do it at movementformodernlife.com.
5: And breathe… (again)
The most simple and transformative meditation was taught to me by meditation teacher Alexander Filmer-Lorch. To start, sit quietly and feel your body in gravity, your tail bone dropping to the ground. Let go of all preconceptions, this is just about the journey and the enquiry into where you can take your attention. Start with your attention at the tip of the nose. As you gently inhale, take the breath to the highest point above your head and then exhale all the way down the spine to your tail bone. Let the attention remain on your breath all the way up, then all the way down again, and repeat. Simple, but transformative.
Buy our 30-day online transformation yoga course here. Find out more about Kat Farrants and her inspirational yoga teachers here.
Meet Kat Farrants, the founder of Movement for Modern Life in her vlog for Life Labs, here.
Photograph: Birgit Tabbarah Photography