10 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself in your Yoga Class

I recently saw this wonderful article by Ann Pizer (About.com Guide) and thought it too good not to share.

Some of yoga’s best lessons are not about how to get all pretzeled up, but more about how to establish beneficial behaviours that will carry over into your life off the mat. Take a look at this list of 10 things to stop doing to yourself in yoga class and see if any of them sound a little too familiar.

1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

It can be hard to stay focused on your own practice without comparing yourself to the people around you, but that’s exactly what you should try to do. It really does not matter what anyone else can do, so stop feeling bad about the people who seem to be more advanced than you. Likewise, don’t let yourself get too excited if your poses seem “better” than a fellow student’s. We are all on our own paths here. Staying true to yours will keep your ego from getting involved and also reduce the likelihood that you’ll get hurt trying to keep up with the person next to you.

2. Stop Comparing Yourself to Yourself

Tricky, right? Thinking about what you can do right now compared to your expectations or your past performance can be just as troublesome, and possibly injurious, as competing with the person next to you. Each day offers us a different body, so don’t worry about that awesome pose you were able to do last week but seems elusive now. It’s all just experience, so labelling it as good or bad is a habit worth breaking.

3. Stop Being a Creature of Habit

Speaking of breaking habits, do you always put your mat in the exact same spot? Challenge yourself to try different places around the room, or even try a new class or studio if you’re feeling like you’re in a rut. Changing your physical perspective can help you change your mental perspective too. If you are in the habit of inwardly groaning when your teachers calls for ab work or parivrtta ardha chandrasana (speaking from experience here), see if you can change your ways there too.

4. Stop Listening to the Teacher

OK, you should listen to the teacher most of the time, but don’t forget who’s really in charge here: you. If your teacher instructs a pose with which you don’t feel comfortable, if it causes you pain or aggravates an injury, don’t do it. No one is inside your body but you, so you’re the one calling the shots. And if a teacher gives you a hard time about it, find a new teacher.

5. Stop Being Nervous About Speaking Up

If it’s your first yoga class, you have an injury, you are pregnant (congrats!), you are scared of handstands, speak up! Some teachers will go around the room asking everyone how they are at the beginning of class, others may not, but part of taking charge of your yoga experience is making sure your teachers have all the information they need to safely lead you. If it’s a private matter, tell them one-on-one before class. Likewise, many teachers invite students to stay and ask questions after class. Take advantage of this! Most teachers are thrilled to help you delve into your alignment or brush up your Sanskrit.

6. Stop Leaving Early

There may occasionally be times when you have to leave class early, but let’s not make a habit out of it. Yes, we are all busy people with places to go and people to see, but most of the time all that can wait an extra 10 minutes while you take savasana. Leaving early on a regular basis is not only rude, but robs you of your reward for all that hard work: a few minutes in your day to just do nothing. Also, you don’t want to end up on the pet peeves list, do you?

7. Stop Getting Ahead of Yourself

Speaking of pet peeves, here’s one of mine. The teacher is instructing a pose in which each successive variation builds upon the one before it. Though the teacher clearly states you should not continue to move forward through the variations until you can comfortably hold the previous step, half the class continues to move in forward in some kind of approximation of the pose, bringing them into greater risk for injury. I know I said not to listen to the teacher, but this is not one of those times! Listen to the teacher!

8. Stop Giving in to the Monkey Mind

What are you thinking about during yoga? Hopefully, you answered, “nothing.” One of the most positive things about doing yoga asana or meditation practice is that it gives us the change to take a little vacation from the constant nagging that is our thoughts, something that has nothing to do with your ability to do complicated physical manoeuvres. If you find yourself thinking a lot about the poses you can or can’t do, give yourself a break from that too.

9. Stop Pushing Through the Pain

“No pain, no gain” has no place in a yoga class. Pain comes in different flavours, and part of really getting to know your body is being able to differentiate between a muscular soreness kind of pain and something more serious. That ache in the belly during (and for several days after) the aforementioned ab work is the former, and the latter is to be avoided.

10. Stop Forgetting to Have Fun

There are so many things to take seriously in life, but your yoga practice doesn’t have to be one of them. I’m not suggesting that you goof off or take unnecessary risks, but that we do this thing with a light-hearted approach and a sense of fun. If you fall out of a pose, laugh it off. Take on that parivrtta ardha chandrasana with a smile on your face. It’s only yoga, after all.

Yoga and Depression: Bringing The Black Dog to Heel

Whenever a new student contacts me about starting a yoga practice, I ask what it is that draws them to yoga: firstly, to manage their expectations – if someone’s primary reason is that they want to look like Madonna or Jennifer Aniston, it’s probably better that they find another teacher (or workout altogether), and secondly, to find out whether there is anything underlying that I may need to know about.

Increasingly, I find that more and more people are looking for a way to work with their mind, rather than just the body (although of course there is also always that): high achievers who want to learn how to push themselves less rather than more, stressed out business people who need to learn how to relax, frazzled mums who need some down-time away from the rainbow of chaos that inevitably surrounds having small kids, those who are recovering from either emotional or physical trauma, those working through depression or even students getting wound up about exams and assignments and keen to find a way to become more single-pointed and focused.

Since the ‘Black Dog’ (as Winston Churchill referred to his own depression) has spent some time taking up residence with some of my nearest and dearest in recent times, this is an area of particular interest for me, and after doing some research, I want to share some extremely interesting case studies.

In an article in the April 2009 Harvard Mental Health Letter (from Harvard Medical School), yoga is looked at specifically as a practice said to modulate the stress response and as such, how it can be used in treating or managing anxiety and depression.

‘Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. One such practice, yoga, has received less attention in the medical literature, though it has become increasingly popular in recent decades.

Many of the studies evaluating yoga’s therapeutic benefits have been small and poorly designed. However, a 2004 analysis found that, in recent decades, an increasing number have been randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous standard for proving efficacy.

Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends.

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly’.

A small but intriguing study further characterizes the effect of yoga on the stress response. In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented preliminary results from a study of varied participants’ responses to pain. They note that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.

When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.

Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques.

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, or CES-D).

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

One uncontrolled, descriptive 2005 study examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered on their own before and after the class. Patients who chose to participate in additional classes experienced similar short-term positive effects.

Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

There is also increasing evidence that types of controlled breathing, such as the pranayama that we do in my classes at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch, can provide relief for depression. The program referred to in the Harvard newsletter is called Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY), involves several types of cyclical breathing patterns, ranging from slow and calming to rapid and stimulating, and is taught by the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation.

One study compared 30 minutes of SKY breathing, done six days a week, to bilateral electroconvulsive therapy and the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in 45 people hospitalized for depression. After four weeks of treatment, 93% of those receiving electroconvulsive therapy, 73% of those taking imipramine, and 67% of those using the breathing technique had achieved remission.

Another study examined the effects of SKY on depressive symptoms in 60 alcohol-dependent men. After a week of a standard detoxification program at a mental health center in Bangalore, India, participants were randomly assigned to two weeks of SKY or a standard alcoholism treatment control. After the full three weeks, scores on a standard depression inventory dropped 75% in the SKY group, as compared with 60% in the standard treatment group. Levels of two stress hormones, cortisol and corticotropin, also dropped in the SKY group, but not in the control group.

Since evidence suggests that yoga can tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal, researchers are exploring whether or not yoga can be a helpful practice for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One randomized controlled study examined the effects of yoga and a breathing program in disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The veterans were heavy daily drinkers, and all were taking at least one antidepressant. The five-day course included breathing techniques (see above), yoga asanas, education about stress reduction, and guided meditation. Participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which ranks symptom severity on an 80-point scale.

Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate). These improvements persisted at a six-month follow-up. The control group, consisting of veterans on a waiting list, showed no improvement.

Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are offering a yogic method of deep relaxation to veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Kristie Gore, a psychologist at Walter Reed, says the military hopes that yoga-based treatments will be more acceptable to the soldiers and less stigmatizing than traditional psychotherapy. The center now uses yoga and yogic relaxation in post-deployment PTSD awareness courses, and plans to conduct a controlled trial of their effectiveness in the future.

The article ends by cautioning that although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone (in particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option), but reiterating that for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.


Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part I — Neurophysiologic Model,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Feb. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 189–201.

Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II — Clinical Applications and Guidelines,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Aug. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 711–17.

Janakiramaiah N, et al. “Antidepressant Efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in Melancholia: A Randomized Comparison with Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Imipramine,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Jan.–March 2000): Vol. 57, No. 1–3, pp. 255–59.

Khalsa SB. “Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention: A Bibliometric Analysis of Published Research Studies,” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (July 2004): Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 269–85.

Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91.

Pilkington K, et al. “Yoga for Depression: The Research Evidence,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.

Saper RB, et al. “Prevalence and Patterns of Adult Yoga Use in the United States: Results of a National Survey,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (March–April 2004): Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 44–49.

For the full article, please see http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2009/April/Yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression

How Many Calories Does Yoga Really Burn?

How Many Calories Does Yoga Really Burn?   

This is a question that I have been asked many times, and I have always felt a bit stumped as to how to answer it comprehensively, as it seems there is not a clear-cut view on this. So, I have researched a bit and come up with the following viewpoints which I, for one, found quite enlightening, and I’m sure you will too.

When reading below, it’s worth bearing in mind that the classes that I teach are arguably a combination of Vinyasa flow and what is termed below as ‘Hatha yoga’ (although all yoga is Hatha yoga) – as any of you that have attended one of my classes will know, we work slowly, with lots of awareness on breath and body, and we work deeply into the muscles, not just stretching. My classes are diverse – we never follow one sequence but build upon a basic set of asanas or do something different in each class.  Each class is different, but intense.

If one of your favourite classes isn’t a top burner, Jill Lawson, founder of Jill Lawson Yoga, has a few tips to get more bang for your buck.

“We will burn more calories when we engage the larger muscles of the body, so deepening our warrior poses, yoga squats and chair poses will increase the demand on our large muscles, therefore burning more calories.”  So, for example, in our class this week at Yoga With Nicci, as we moved through Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutation), with many squats, Trikonasana etc, you would definitely have been working into the larger muscles of the body, through a flowing sequence of asanas.

If you ask any avid yogi why they love yoga so much, weight-loss and calorie burn would probably be pretty far down the list. While you don’t want to take away from the mind/body connection people flock to yoga to experience—admit it—you are a little curious how many calories your favourite yoga class is scorching. And if you are on a weight-loss plan, being informed on just how many calories you are expending can be the key to your success.

There is no way around it. Yoga is as an amazing full-body workout— but the intensity can vary based on which class you take, from gentle and relaxing Hatha yoga to sweat-dripping-off-your-nose hot Bikram. So which classes burn the most (and the least) amount of calories? The answers may surprise you.

“If the method to test caloric expenditure was only based on heart rate, then Bikram and other hot yoga classes might top the charts as the styles of yoga that burn the most calories,” explains Jill Lawson, founder of Jill Lawson Yoga. “But while a higher heart rate does correlate with a higher calorie burn, other factors can play a role in increased heart rate without the corresponding caloric expenditure.”

Calories Burned in Yoga: Class by Class

Gasp! Bikram is not the be all, end all of fat-melting, slipping in puddles of expended calories in yoga class? Of course, active yoga styles such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga burn more calories than passive styles such as Restorative or Hatha yoga, but let’s really see how each form stacks up.

Caloric expenditure in yoga is said be anywhere from approximately 100 to 450 calories per hour, depending on the person, and the practice. According to HealthStatus.com, one hour of the following varieties of yoga performed by a 150-pound person will reap the following rewards:

Hatha Yoga: 189 calories. Hatha yoga is an umbrella term for what Westerners consider yoga. In truth, Hatha yoga is the actual physical practice of yoga postures, plain and simple. This is the basic, run-of-the-mill yoga class you may find at your gym or local studio if not noted otherwise. While part of the class may contain constant movement, a lot of it is also holding balance poses. Hatha classes are perfect for those who want to dip their toes in the yoga pool and get a great, relaxing flexibility workout.

Ashtanga Yoga (or Power Yoga): 351 calories. Ashtanga yoga is often referred to as Power Yoga because of its dynamic system that combines breathing and movement into a series of postures. It is both cardiovascular and meditative, and relies on the strength of your own muscles to perform the movements. Unlike many styles of yoga where the classes are choreographed differently, in Ashtanga Yoga classes, the postures performed are always the same and are done in a specific order. Ashtanga yoga is meant to purify the body by cultivating an “internal heat,” which burns off toxins. It also builds strength, flexibility and reduces stress.

Bikram or Hot Yoga: 477 calories. Hot yoga, which is performed in a room heated to around 105 degrees and usually lasts around 90 minutes, is probably the most misunderstood form of yoga. “When the body is working hard to cool itself, as in a hot yoga class, heart rate does increase, but that does not necessarily mean there is a higher physical demand on the working muscles,” explains Lawson. “We might expect to lose anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds of water weight in a hot yoga class, but that is likely to be replaced when we rehydrate.”

Bikram yoga involves a sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises performed in the same order, no matter where you take your class. Hot yoga can involve any type of postures but is still performed in a heated classroom. You will sweat profusely, thereby ridding the body of toxins and the intense heat enhances flexibility in your muscles.

Vinyasa Yoga (Flow Yoga): 594 calories. Vinyasa yoga, often referred to as Flow because of the smooth way the poses run together, tops the list of calorie burners because of the constant movement. If you choose a Flow class, expect lots of burning muscles, not just stretching. Many love Vinyasa because of its diversity. There is no single sequence that teachers follow, so every class will be different, but intense.

If one of your favourite classes isn’t a top burner, Lawson has a few tips to get more bang for your buck.

“We will burn more calories when we engage the larger muscles of the body, so deepening our warrior poses, yoga squats and chair poses will increase the demand on our large muscles, therefore burning more calories.”

However, if calorie-burning is your main goal, she does not recommend yoga as your sole means of exercise. ”Other types of activities such as cycling, running or vigorous dancing burn a lot more calories per hour as compared with yoga.”

Yoga does have its unique weight-loss abilities though. Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies, take care better care of ourselves and naturally avoid unhealthy behaviours. The more we practice, the more connected we become with our bodies.

“Calorie-counting is one way to be more conscious of our diet and exercise balance,” says Lawson, “However, obsessing about it definitely takes away from the joy we gain from the time we spend on the yoga mat.”

And then another article:

Is Yoga Effective for Fat Burning?

First of all: What is fat burning?

Fat burning has become a popular catch phrase in marketing classes at the gym and exercise videos. Most people who are seduced by the idea of burning fat just want to lose weight or tone their bodies. When it comes to weight loss it really doesn’t matter if your body is burning fat or carbs: what matters is that you are burning more calories than you consume. About.com exercise guide Paige Waehner recommends that you exercise consistently and vary your workout routine if your goal is to burn fat. Yoga can be an effective part of both these strategies.

Is yoga effective for fat burning?

The answer depends on what kind of yoga you do and how often you do it. There are a lot of claims that yoga will not help you lose weight. This is true of the most gentle types of asana practice which include light stretching and seated meditation. However, if losing weight is a priority, there are many of more cardiovascular types of yoga available that will raise your heart rate and help you lose weight assuming you are also watching what you eat. Yoga is also great for building muscle definition, making you look more toned.

What types of yoga are best for fat burning?

If you want to lose weight using yoga as your primary workout, you are going to need to commit to a fast-paced practice, ideally every day. Ashtanga yoga is a great choice since daily practice is encouraged, but power yoga, some hot yoga and some vinyasa yoga may also do the trick. Another option is to use yoga as part of your overall weight loss plan but not count on getting the bulk of your cardio at yoga class. Yoga combined with walking, running, or biking is a great choice.

Which yoga poses are the best for burning fat?

No individual yoga pose is going to make the pounds melt off your thighs. It doesn’t really matter what yoga poses you do, as long as you do a regular, vigorous practice.

Hope that helps answer any questions you may have had, but shout if you have more!  

Thanks to Kelly Turner at Fit Bottomed Girls: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/health/wonder-how-many-calories-are-burned-different-yoga-classes-we-have-answers and Ann Pizer at About.com Guide http://yoga.about.com/od/yogafa1/a/Yoga-And-Fat-Burning.htm