Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sri Lanka Yoga Retreat July 16-19 2015

Check-in Thursday 16th July 1 pm - Depart Sunday 19th July after breakfast by Noon

Venue: Talalla Retreat

Classes: Six 2 hour classes. 

First yoga class starts on Thursday afternoon at 4.30pm.  From then we will have 2 classes on Friday, 2 on Saturday, and 1 on Sunday.  

Aside from the usual yoga there is the opportunity to relax by the pool or at the beach, surf, get a massage, or just hang out.

Because there are limited rooms I am encouraging people to please consider sharing so that as many people can participate as possible.    Rooms need to be confirmed with full payment.  In case you have to cancel, a full refund can be provided up until 16 June 2015.

The rate includes:
   All yoga classes
   Full board (tea/fruit before yoga; buffet style breakfast served at table; a la carte lunch (there is a menu to choose an item from), buffet style dinner)

You need to pay for any extra drinks or snacks you might have if the mega breakfast and dinner and light lunch still leaves you hungry!  

6.30am                 tea/fruit (if desired)
7.00-9.00am         yoga
9.00                      breakfast

RELAX                  (have massage, swim, surf, read, have lunch around 1 or 2ish depending on how full you are after brekkie)

4.30-6.30pm         yoga
7pm                      dinner

The prices quoted below are based on 3 nights per person.   You need to find a person to share with if you opt for double or triple and Tilak can put you in touch with other people who may also want to share.  

Full payment is required at time of booking.  You can make your booking directly with Tilak ( +94-773-912-100) and pay  Tilak directly or he can provide a Sri Lankan or Australian bank account details for you to transfer to if that is easier.

Sri Lankan citizens or with those with a Sri Lanka Resident visa:
Single 3 nights                   Rs. 50,000/-
Double (share) 3 nights     Rs. 39,000/- per person
Triple (share) 3 nights       Rs. 36,000/- per person

Non-Sri Lankan citizens without a Sri Lanka Resident visa
Single 3 nights                   USD650
Double (share) 3 nights     USD560- per person
Triple (share) 3 nights       USD530- per person

Look forward to seeing you!

Much metta,

Active Movements For Better Natarajasana

Full natarajasana

‘Is that real yoga?’

That was a comment from a passerby who chatted to us as we practiced our outdoor class last week. 

It certainly felt very real to us as we all attempted to hold our active natarajasana!

Below is a photo of me in active natarajasana.  Look, no hands!

Active natarajasana

If the passerby had have walked past a few moments later when I was in full natarajasana (picture at top of page) then no doubt she might not have even asked whether we were doing 'real yoga'.  

The thing is, the top pose looks really impressive, but the active, less impressive looking one, is, in many ways, harder.

In this post I talk about how to progress to full natarjasana.  A video of me coming into the posture is at the end of the post. 

What is Active Natarajasana?
Active natarajasana is where you try to initiate the pose without using your hands. 

It is relatively easy to pull your foot to your bottom using your hand. 

It is much, much, much harder to try and draw your foot close to your bottom without using your hands and then try to push your shin back and foot up (still without hands). 

It is challenging for a number of reasons.

For a start you are trying to balance on one leg as you do something tricky. 

Then, while many people may have tight hamstrings, not many have strong hamstrings (note you can be tight and weak).

Bringing your heel to your bottom without hands activates hamstring muscles. 

Try it yourself and see how much you can bend your knee.  

If you are like many people it wont be very far. 

In fact, you might be lucky to get it past 90 degrees. 

Then, if you do manage, you might find that you start to get a cramp either in your calf or foot or hamstring or any combination of these and you somehow need to figure out how to come into the pose without this happening!

Here I had a special note, it helps if you do not point your toes and foot and if you move slowly.

Why would I do active natarajasana?
Active natarajasana does not look that impressive—until you try it for yourself!

I suppose that is one reason why the passerby thought we were not doing real yoga.

But active natarajasana will help your practice a lot.

Coming into poses actively helps you build strength and reduces the chances of overstretching.  And I generally find that hamstrings are always in danger of being over-stretched by yoga students.

In this pose using the hip extensor and knee flexor muscles to draw the body into the posture will help opposing muscles (the ones that will be lengthened—the hip flexors) to relax. 

This helps you come more deeply into the pose without feeling like you are stretching since the muscle is more relaxed.

That means you improve mobility. 

You can also learn to relax chronically over-tense muscles. 

Hip flexors are some of those muscles that tend to be chronically short and tight given most people sit with them in that position all day.

For some people this can, in turn, help relieve low back tension.

If you find you cannot lift the leg at all, then you can get good work with just toe tip on the ground, as shown below.

What next?
We don’t stay in active natarajasana, although some of us choose to.  That is where we might be at.

If we want to move deeper, we then go to an active-assisted version of the pose.

What is active-assisted natarajasana?
The active assisted version is where you do take hold of the ankle. 

It is the way that you take hold of it and what you do next that is important.

When you hold the ankle you cultivate a push-pull action.

That is, you try to push the ankle/shin into the hand as you pull with the hand (as though to bend the elbow).

When you do this you should find that some of the muscles that have been lengthened now start to activate. 

They are activating in a lengthened state. 

This posture is not about pulling your leg up with your hand. 

After I push my shin into my hand I then push my foot up.

I will be able to take my leg higher in this way.  But the key point is that it is still active.

At the same time there are other elements to the posture. 

I am trying to unsquash my lower back through two main actions.

First, pushing sitting bones to heels and top of pelvis back., which lengthens lower back.

Second, by using the free hand to push the armpit forward and up, which has a whole spine tractioning effect. 

Why do active assisted natarajasana?
Start by remembering, you don’t have to do it.

If you are in the posture you will find that the muscles that are being lengthened are now also being activated, which creates a relaxation effect when you come out of the posture.

That means you will have released even more tension in those muscles.

However, you are also teaching your body to be both strong and flexible.

Is this for everyone?
Well, you should let your comfort be the judge of that. 

For people with chronic tightness in their hip flexors such that they tend to get aggravated with activation I tell them to stay with just the active version and avoid the active-assistive version. 

That means they get the relaxation effect in their chronically tight muscles by activating the muscles on the opposite side of the joint. 

As a teacher (remember you are the teacher of your own self as well even if you do not teach other people) you don’t take a one-size fits all approach to people’s bodies.

For people with chronic tightness in their hip flexors that get aggravated by activation, I also modify postures that tend to oblige hip flexors to be active.

While it might now sound like I am back-tracking on active movement, it is actually that I am using a whole of body approach to balance the activation that is required to move towards freedom.

Here it starts to get very technical and where you want to make sure you talk to a skilled yoga teacher before just reading something on a blog!

Below I have taken a video of me going through the steps to come into the full natarajasana.  It takes a lot of shoulder mobility.  It is definitely not for everyone.  Most people I know cannot get enough shoulder rotation to do this and you must move slowly.  I do not encourage people to try without a teacher's guidance and it is only shown for demonstration purposes.  You can see that I let my hand go at key points and try to hold my leg in position without the hand for a small moment. 

Have fun with your active natarajasana.  You tell me whether you think that is ‘real yoga’ or not!!

I teach active movements in classes and workshops and this is definitely something we will workshop on our retreat in Bali.  Spaces are filling up fast so sign up soon.

Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,

Active Movements For Better Padmasana

An active extension of vrksasana

Vrksasana is commonly called tree pose.

Most people do tree pose by grabbing for their ankle and pulling it up into their inner thigh.

This is a missed opportunity to develop better strength and mobility around your hip joint.

So next time you try vrksasana, why not follow the steps in this post!  It will boost your practice I promise.

Below I show the steps of active vrksasana, some extensions of the pose, including a side plank variation.

The video at the end of the post shows live action transitions so you appreciate the movement.

Over time this is the sort of action and movement that will help you come into a pose like padmasana (lotus) without hands.

Step 1
Transfer weight to one leg (I will call this weight bearing leg, or WBL).  Make sure you do not let the hip 'sink' or push out to the side.

Be on toe tip of other leg (I will call this non weight bearing leg, or NWBL).

Roll thigh out of NWBL.

You should feel that the lower part of your butt starts to get firm.  If you are not sure then start again and put your hand at the crease of your butt and turn the thigh out again.  You should feel it has become firm.

It is enough to stay at this stage.  You should feel you are doing active work.

Step 2
Keeping thigh rolled out, lift knee of NWBL.

Be careful not to sink into WBL hip.

Be careful not to take the knee back.  You are just taking it up.  It will not (for most people) be directly out to the side.

Step 3
Actively pull the heel of the NWBL as close to your bottom as possible while keeping thigh rolled out and knee to the side.

Step 4
Keeping these actions, put the foot into the thigh.

You will find it does not go as high as it normally might but you should feel you are much more active in the posture.

As always, push foot into thigh and thigh into foot.

Extension Step 6
Go further if you like!

Release the foot and take the knee higher while maintaining the thigh rolling out action.

Extension Step 7
Straighten the knee, keeping the NWBL thigh rolling out.

This is tough!!

Extension Step 8
Go back to extension step 6 and take your heel.  Push heel into hand and hand into heel .

Straight the leg again.

Here I actively push my heel into my hand as though I am trying to put the leg back on the ground.

Fun Side Plank Variations
You can do active vrksasana variations in side plank!

Be mindful not to sink into the bottom shoulder/armpit.  I stay lifted out of it, just as I would stay lifted out of the hip in the standing variation.

Video Transitions
Still photos are never great as you cannot see what is happening between one shot and the next.  To appreciate the active movement, watch the video below.

Remember, it is always better to work with a teacher.

Move slowly, stretch less, tense less, think less, and breathe less.

No hamstrings or adductor muscles were injured in the making of this video.

This is precisely the type of movement and step-by-step gradation of poses that I teach in class and we will be working on at our retreat in Bali. Sign up before it fills up!

Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta.


How I Stopped Yoga and Got Better (Is over stretching ruining your practice?)

Active movements help me create the strength and flexibility to come into this posture (no hands!)

An unlikely post for a yoga teacher!

A student came to class today and told me about her hip problem.  It is chronic.  She said she had been doing yoga for a while but it was not getting better.

The thing is, I am currently teaching a series that emphasises mindful movement around the hip joint for greater movement and stability and spinal freedom.

Now, some people might say "Oh, great, you have come to the right class.  It is all about hip-openers!"

But my advice was the opposite.

"Stretch less and tense less," I said.

I advised her to focus on gentle, pain-free movement instead to encourage the flow of circulation and energy.

"Move and lengthen but don't feel tension or tightening.  If it starts to feel like stretching then stop," I said.  Firmly but calmly of course.

I explained that stretching might be aggravating whatever it was that she was experiencing (I did ask whether she had seen a physio/osteo/etc and she had not so we were in murky area here).

And I offered that as long as the movement did not hurt (not even a little bit) then she might try.

She was looking at me and nodding all the while.

"Yes," she replied, "when I stopped doing yoga it felt much better!"

Hallelujah, I thought!

Empirical (okay, anecdotal) evidence had arrived in our class for everyone to hear.  Stretching more can contribute to a problem rather than alleviate it.

When she stopped yoga and all the hip stretching that was supposedly 'good' for her she actually got better.

I was so pleased she had the motivation to still come to yoga after all of the problems she had been having.

I don't want to imply that all stretching is bad.

I learned from senior teachers Simon Borg Olivier and Bianca Machliss, of Yoga Synergy, (they are also trained physiotherapists) that stretching is sometimes something that a trained professional might guide you through for therapeutic reasons.

However, in general, it is better to experience lengthening rather than stretching.

For me I think about stretching as simply pulling on a muscle that is already tight.

What I look for in my yoga practice is to try to lengthen and relax my muscles rather than 'stretch' them.

It does not mean I am passive and weak in my postures, flopping around like a rag doll.

It does not mean that I just sit there stuck and unmoving so nothing 'stretches'.

Quite the opposite.

I use active movements to help bring me into and out of postures and to keep me there.

When you use active movements in a thoughtful way you can become stronger and more flexible without feeling that you are either being pulled from limb to limb or that you are shuddering from the effort of it all.

What happens instead is you get more movement.

You get pain-free movement.

You get ease and grace of movement.

It is a delicious experience.

Here Tilak uses active movements to strengthen hip flexors and knee extensors and relax and lengthen hip extensors and knee flexors.  All with a smile!

 This is the type of thing I teach in class.  It is what we will work on for 7 days at our upcoming retreat in Bali (

It is what I learned from amazing teachers like Simon and Paddy ( and  

Of course, there is more to it than that.

At the beginning of every class I say move slowly, tense less, stretch less, think less, and breathe less.

These are some of the key principles I learned training with my teachers.  Read Simon's excellent post about how not to hurt yourself in any style of yoga by applying some key principles here:

 Happy and safe practicing!

Bakasana Without Fear

In this post I share a video of coming into bakasana on a small block I found by the lake.  Below are some important instructions.

Above, I came up onto my tip toes and bent my knees slightly.  This helped make the backs of my knees firm.

I suppose you might not do this if you did not have confidence that you could move up onto your toes!  We practice this type of action a lot in my classes to develop stability around the ankles and knees.

I had my sitting bones down, top of pelvis back to lengthen lower back.

I was pushing my hips forward as though to move them over my toes and initiated spinal forward flexion to help make my tummy firm.

I was beginning to push my armpits down and forward to bring my shoulder blades around my upper back.

Next, as I lower my hands I try not to send my bottom back.  I keep my knees bent to encourage more spinal forward flexion and maintain my firm tummy.

Then, you can see my spine has essentially not changed shape.  I am still firm in my tummy doing spinal forward flexion.

I am pushing my hands down into the floor, shoulder blades wrapping around my upper back.  You can see that I was doing this from the beginning so really that has not changed either.  I do feel as though I am sending my elbows backwards but my fingers/hands down and forwards.  This helps me be firm and strong around the shoulder joint.

Actually not much has really changed.  I am trying to maintain the actions I initiated in the beginning and bring them towards the ground.

The main thing I have done here is to actively lift my knees up onto my arms.  I am not resting them there.  I am trying to keep them light and lifting.  I do press my upper arms back towards my knees.

Look at my toes.  I am trying to lift up onto the tops of my toes here rather than be on the balls of my feet.  The less weight I have on my toes the better--for the full posture that it!

If you do this well you will know how hard this is.

If you can practice this without sinking into your shoulders and without sinking into your feet or being heavy on your knees then you will be doing excellent work for the full posture.   Maintain the push through the arms and the firmness in your tummy.

What changes here is that my shoulders come far in front of my wrists.

One of the reasons I did this posture on a block was to show how far my shoulders are coming forward.  If you compare the previous picture to this one you can see my head is now in front of the block and my shoulders are just over the edge.

At this point I start to feel lift.

The video below shows lift off!  Instead of leaping into the posture, I balance.  I actively lift my heels to my bottom.

I have written previously about using the wrists but you can see here I have wrapped my finger tips around the block.  I am pressing into them.

This is how we deconstruct posture to help you be strong, safe, and active in postures.  Hope to see you in classes and workshops in Canberra and Colombo, or at our Bali retreat!

Much metta,

Active Movements For Eka Pada Koundinyasa I

I use active movements to come into this posture
In this post I show active movements to come into eka pada koundinyasa I via parivrtta parsvakonasana.  We are practicing this in my classes at the moment.  I have included a few videos and step-by-step instructions.  

I do not recommend you practice this without the guidance of an experienced teacher.  Also, unless they are experienced in using active spinal movements they may not be able to give appropriate and safe guidance on safe spinal movement so just check.  This is mainly for students who practice with me and need some extra guidance.  I will give advice on safety in the posture.  As always, you need to be careful with knees, wrists, shoulders, and spine.  Moving slowly, moving actively, tensing less, and stretching less will always help.

Active Movements
As a teacher I try to demonstrate active movement and show where movement may be coming from so that you generate strength and ease of movement. 

Sometimes this is tricky because what you see may not be where the movement arises. 

Also, sometimes a more passive posture may end up looking much the same as the active posture. 

The pictures below highlight this.
Active spinal movements get me here

In the picture above I used active spinal movements to come into the pose. 

In the picture below I came in by ‘falling’ with gravity and mainly by flexing my hips. 

Passive hip flexion got me here
While they look much the same, the feeling in my torso especially is completely different.  If you look carefully at the angle or amount of blue space between my front thigh and torso you can see there is more space in the active pose as I did not close off the hip angle.

In the first pose I feel lifted, light and lengthened.  In the second I feel more sinking—especially into the hips--and general heaviness. 

You can see the difference in entry maneuvers in the video below.

I don’t want to suggest one is right or wrong.  I can do them both. 

I choose to do the first version in my practice and teaching to help you develop strength and mobility in the torso. 

Aside from helping my spine feel good, moving actively and having activated muscles around my tummy in particular, helps me come into the arm balance variation that follows this posture in our current sequence. 

Here I have to say, I got a six-pack without ever doing a crunch or by adding a ‘core yoga’ section into my classes or self-practice. 

I simply do active movements throughout my entire class and am pretty much doing a ‘sit-up’, aka active spinal forward flexion, in every forward bend I do. 

Back to the postures at hand!  There are two.  A standing posture, then an arm balance.

Perhaps watch the video first to get a sense of the flow and process.  Then take a look at the step-by-step freeze frames and instructions.

Demonstration of using active movements to the postures

Spinally speaking, the standing posture is basically a twisting, side bending, forward bending backbend. 

That is, once I am in the lunge and lengthen lower back (sitting bones down, top of pelvis back), I do a twist, a side bend, a forward bend, then a little back bend in my upper back.  A little hip flexion creeps in but after the spinal forward flexion.

Step 1: Get into a lunge

 In this lunge I have my back heel up.  That is because I am going to make this posture dynamic and move into the arm balance.  Traditionally heel is down.

Many people find having heel up difficult to balance.  You need to be using your feet and legs actively to assist with the balance.  I grip with my toes lightly. 

Also, if you allow your hips to be sinking it is often a sign you are not using your legs actively enough and will make it harder to balance.  I keep my hips a little higher and legs active here.  Nothing wrong with going lower but just in an active and not sinking way.

Step 2: Lengthen lower back
Here I have taken sitting bones down, top of pelvis back in order to lengthen my lower back. 

To me, this is different and more subtle than ‘tucking under’.  Remember, rather than fret about action, go for feeling.  The feeling here is to have space in your lower back and not squashing.

In this picture I have also lengthened my entire spine. I have taken my lower ribs back and up lightly.  You cannot see my neck but I have head down, neck back slightly to lengthen back of neck.

I have begun to push my armpits forward and lightly down, elbows lightly up.

Step 3: Active spinal twist

I try to move from base of spine upwards.  That means, turning from navel, area then lower ribs, then chest, then shoulders.

Look at the front foot.  See how much it is still working.

Spine still long, not arching.

Step 4: Active spinal side bending
Here I initiate side bending by bringing back hip forward and up towards the rib.  At the same time I am reaching opposite arm up and forward from my waist/pelvis and trying to move that side hip back slightly so the whole side body lengthens.

The side of my body that closest in this picture is firming.  This side bending firmness will help me in the arm balance.

You can see I start to have more weight on my front foot—the back heel is raising as well in preparation for the arm balance to soon come.

At this stage I am in a back lengthening, twisting, side bending posture.

Step 5: Spinal forward flexion
Now I have begun a spinal forward flexion process.

See the space you can see between the top of my thigh and torso and how the angle is still relatively open.

I am now in a spine lengthening, twisting, side bending, forward bend.

Step 6: A bit of hip flexion
There is no need to go deeper.  Unless you are coming to the arm balance, that is!

To get to the ground I need some hip flexion.  I initiate hip flexion here, after I have done my active twisting, side bending, forward bend.  Importantly, I maintain these actions as I lower.

In my own practice I often choose to stay at this point here.  It feels really good.

I can do the arm balance easily but for me it seems unnecessary compared to how nice it feels to stay actively in this posture for some time.   

At this point a t lot of yoga teachers in classes I have attended will come up and try and get me to put my back heel on the ground, to try and put my hand on the ground, to try and take my legs further apart. 

There is nothing wrong with that.  But this feels so much better.  Perhaps it is not pretty but once you start to appreciate active movements and see what is going on in the posture you see this as something lovely and delicious feeling. 

I am not leaning or using the bottom arm on my knee at all.  If you were to use it then do so in an intelligent and active way.  That would mean using the arm to press lightly into the thigh and pressing the thigh back into the arm.  I am definitely not using my arm to ‘wrench’ or twist my spine here.  I am also not sinking into it.

Step 7: More hip flexion and knee bending to get hands to ground
The only way to get to the ground is to get some more hip flexion in there, front knee bends more as well. 

A lot more in fact.  You can see it has started to come in front of my toes.  I need to be firm behind my knee to maintain the integrity of my knee here.  My ankles are moderately flexible in a squat so my heel can stay down.  If you need it is perfectly fine to lift that heel.  In fact, it might help you to keep firm behind the knee. 

You can see hands are coming in front of the foot and off to the side. 

I am maintaining all of the actions from previous steps.  That means my front knee is actually only lightly touching my arm. 

Notice how at no stage did I start pushing my arm into the knee to get me into this twist.  They are touching lightly here.  I do not want that front knee to get heavy.  It will become heavy if you are not using your torso actively and you will feel like you are sinking in this posture instead of lifting.

This picture sort of shows you how my whole back body is lengthened, not flattened.   You can see I am moving my chest into my upper back and moving my shoulder blades around the sides of my chest.

Notice I am transferring weight forward.  You can see this as I am coming more onto the tops of my toes on the back foot.

Step 8: Enhance side bending
Leaning forward with more weight on my hands and pushing the floor away.  I don’t want weight on my feet in an arm balance.  I need to support it by pushing into the floor with arms to get lift.

I am gripping with finger tips as thought grabbing at the ground (not flattening fingers).

I am maintaining all the core actions. 

This allows me to enhace side bending by bringing the back knee into my shoulder.  I can only do this without feeling heavy or sinking if I have kept all of the actions in the torso. 

You can see weight is more and more over the hands and my front heel has started to lift.  I need lightness in this foot to come up. 

I squeeze my wrists together and keep feeling as though my elbows are trying to come together.

Step 9: Lean forward, smile, stay firm but calm, and lift
Compare this picture with the previous one and you see my shoulders have come further forward over the finger tips.  I have to lean forward without dropping into my shoulders to come into this position.

Actually, let me correct myself.  I don’t have to.  You can drop and do this but it will probably feel awful on your wrists and shoulders!

If you can sneak a look at my tummy here you can see is it active!

Step 10: Legs out!
I continue leaning forward.  See how far my shoulders have come in front of wrists.  I suppose if you were stronger you would not need to lean as far forward but I am not that strong.  I am trying not to lower my chest but to stay lifted. 

Maintaining all previous actions, I just straighten my legs.

The top thigh is rolling in and bottom thigh is rolling out. 

I am happy and calm and firm and strong and feeling good.  If you walked past me I could say hello and tell you how good I was feeling and have a little chat without getting breathless. 

In Sum
Remember that this arm balance is just a bit of show ponying really.  It looks impressive but it won’t make you happier or healthier!

Staying in the standing version might help you more than the arm balance. 

I also don’t recommend trying this without your teacher. 

This is the way I teach posture.  I encourage you to think about how it feels at every stage.  Go for length and freedom, not squashing.  Use active movements.  Layer the movements and keep the actions you cultivated in the lead up on the follow through.  

This is how we will help you move towards greater strength and movement in our Bali retreat and in my classes and workshops in Canberra and Sri Lanka.  Look forward to seeing you. 

Happy and safe practicing!

Much metta,