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Q+A ~ My Self Care Life

Olivia Marley

I recently had a chat with the lovely ladies at SundaySunday.co.uk. Here are the questions they asked - my answers were recently published here on their website!

1.How did you get into yoga? Can you remember your first every yoga experience, if so give us some details?

My mum got me into it. In my late teens I used to complain to her about my back hurting, so she dragged me to her local class in a village hall. Everything was so tight I could barely touch my knees, let alone my toes. The teacher was lovely but the class didn’t really grab me because I had too much energy to burn off before I could lie still. I remember thinking that it was just lots of old ladies lying on the floor! I also distinctly remember that the woman next to me hadn’t brought a mat, she’d brought a roll of carpet that she said was spare from having redone her hallway  Now, though, I absolutely love lying on the floor for an hour! 

@yogawitholivia child's pose.JPG

2. What’s your favourite pose for anxiety?

I expect this’ll be different for everyone, but for me it’s probably child’s pose. It’s minimal effort, I’m curled up into a protective ball with my eyes closed, and there’s something really soothing about the pressure on my forehead when it rests on the floor. 

If this posture is uncomfortable on your knees or your feet you can always try padding them with a pillow or putting a rolled up towel under your ankles. Or if that still doesn’t work try turning the posture round 90 degrees – just lie on your back with a pillow under your head and hug your knees into your chest!

3. What would you say to people that are scared to come to their first yoga class and are worried it’s not their vibe/they’re not zen enough?

I’d say that’s a totally natural way to feel! I don’t think beginners give themselves enough credit for how much guts it takes to try out something different. When we’re young it’s normal to be doing something for the first time quite often, but as adults we rarely put ourselves in the situation of going to a new place, where we don’t know quite what’s going to happen, where we think everyone will know what they’re doing and be much better at it than us. And all that plus you have to move your body in a new way in front of a room full of strangers! So know that lots of people feel that way, and it’s totally normal. Try doing some research before you choose a class – a teacher or studio’s website or social media should give you an idea of what class will be like. For example, will it be physically strenuous or slow and relaxing? Do they mention yoga philosophy in their online content or are they mainly focused on movement? Does that person use the Sanskrit names for poses or do they use English names? I hope my Instagram shows people that our classes are down to earth, based on anatomy and physical movement, and delivered in plain English.

Beginners also don’t often realise how different classes can be. So if you try a class and think it’s not for you, try not to be put off straight away! A different class or teacher might suit you much better. Studios often do introductory offers where you can go as many times as you like, so it’s worth trying a range of classes. If you can find somewhere that offers a beginners course that’s ideal, because it will be tailored to your needs and everyone else in class will be in the same boat as you. Or if you find an all levels class maybe try and arrive a little early on your first go so you can tell the teacher you’re new and they can give you some pointers on what to expect. Lastly, consider that you wouldn’t expect to be able to do any other new skill, for example swimming or playing tennis, perfectly the first time you tried it. You’d expect to feel a bit unsure, maybe a little lost at points in the class. That’s all simply part of it being new. And it’ll subside surprisingly quickly! 

4. Where would you be without yoga? How do you see it improve your client’s lives?

If I wasn’t doing this job I’d be working in law – that’s what I left behind. I originally got hooked on it because it made my body feel better, but the benefits to my mental health are what’s kept me coming back all these years. I’ve experienced depression in the past and the skills I’ve built up through yoga, like keeping my attention on my body, not being hard on myself and breathing slowly and deeply, all help me deal when that comes up. 

My clients have told me so many different ways they feel this discipline has influenced their lives, which is always soooo lovely to hear. Things like: keeping calm before a job interview or presentation at work; easing troubled sleep patterns; improving self-confidence; aiding recovery from injury, surgery and serious illness; meeting a future partner at class; as well as the more obvious physical benefits of feeling stronger and more flexible. 

5. What are your fave london yoga studios and why?

Well I run some of my own classes in a dance studio a couple of times a week, kind of like a mini studio, so if anyone’s ever around Old Street or Farringdon they should obvs pop in and say hi! When I’m being a customer I’ll tend to go to wherever the teacher I want to see happens to be, rather than being loyal to a particular studio location. Having said that, out of all the studios I go to or work at 3Tribes in north London has got to be up there as a favourite. I do weekly classes there and also teach on their teacher training course. They have lots of teachers that work at big studios in the City but also a lovely community vibe and everyone is super friendly. So you get really high quality classes but also people chatting before and after class (which you definitely don’t get everywhere!). They’ve also just opened a new branch in Borough with two  floatation tanks.

6. What’s your typical morning self-care routine?

All my mornings are quite different, depending on what time my first class is. So the only things that are constant across all of them is I aim to get 8 hours sleep, always have breakfast, drink at least one big glass of water before I leave home and always use a face cream with spf 30 in. But the other things I do each day, which I do in the mornings when I have time, are firstly that I always want to some form of physical movement. That might be yoga, or I also really love strength training and the odd run. I always try to make space for some quiet time. That could be reading a book, meditating, or just a relaxation at the end of my exercise. I need to make that quiet time away from any screens or devices. They’re so addictive! Otherwise I see one email pop up that seems urgent and then two hours later realise I’ve gone down an internet hole.

7. How do you stay organised and sane as a busy self-employed person?

I think sometimes people expect yoga teachers to have this kind of stuff worked out, and for us to be super chilled and calm the whole time. In reality that’s often not the case! I think I’m quite good at the organized part. Because my timetable is slightly different every week I live in constant fear of accidentally being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so have two calendars to keep track of all my appointments. One online and an old school paper diary. The staying sane bit is still definitely a skill I’m working on! It’s super tempting when you’re self-employed to take on all the work you can fit in, just because you never know if there might be a quiet patch around the corner. One thing I’m definitely still trying to master is knowing what to say no to, and not feeling guilty for ages if I do say no to something. I used to work throughout the week, but now have condensed my working hours so that I start on Monday evening and finish for the week on Saturday lunchtime. Keeping Sundays totally free is really important, otherwise I never feel like I totally switch off. 

8. What does self care mean to you?

It’s making time for whatever you need to do on a regular basis to keep yourself healthy in the long term. That will be different for everyone! For me, the long term aspect is important – I can miss most things a few times and it doesn’t make much of a difference. But when that happens it’s so easy to fall out of the habit of doing something, and then all of a sudden you realise a couple of months have gone past. Taking care of yourself can also be about things you don’t do; like not feeling pressured to go out if you want to stay in. I also think it’s really important to set realistic goals for how you need to look after yourself. That way you can achieve them without putting too much pressure on yourself, and self care doesn’t become another thing you’re getting stressed trying to do (which is obviously counter productive!). I wrote a short blog post on this in relation to creating a home yoga or meditation practice. Don’t be hard yourself. And don’t be scared to say no to stuff you don’t want to do!

5 simple, stress-busting yoga poses

Olivia Marley

~ This blog post originally appeared in an edited form on Selfridges.com ~

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It can sometimes feel almost impossible for stressed out city dwellers to lie down and instantly relax. So if you’re reading this because you’re feeling stressed you probably need to burn off some nervous energy before you even try chilling out! If that sounds like you, my first recommendation for you is:

Warrior 2

Stand with your feet wide apart. Turn your right toes out so now your feet are at 90 degrees to each other. Reach your arms out wide at shoulder height and bend your right knee until it’s stacked over your right ankle. Look past your right fingertips. Hold here as you inhale and exhale slowly five times, then repeat on your left side.

Tip: Keep an eye on your front knee (the one that’s bending). Don’t lend it bend past the level of your ankle, and don’t let it turn in.

Locust pose

It’s really common when you’re under pressure to feel like your shoulders are hunching up round your ears. That can also mean your head drops forwards and down, which will make your neck and upper back unnecessarily tense. Locust pose will strengthen the muscles that help undo those postural habits! Lie down on your front, with your arms by your side and palms facing down. As you inhale, lift your chest, arms and legs away from the floor so you’re just resting on your belly. Lower down as you exhale. Repeat five times.

Tip: You want to feel the muscles in your back working - try drawing your shoulderblades towards each other and then away from your ears.

Child’s pose

We’ve worked your legs and your back muscles in the last two postures, so now let’s start to slow it down a bit. Come to hands and knees with the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Sit your bum back on to/ towards your heels and let your torso rest on your thighs. Hold here while you inhale and exhale slowly 10 times.

Tip: If this is uncomfortable on your knees or the tops of your feet you can always rest them on a rolled up blanket to give yourself a bit more cushioning.

Legs up the wall

Lie on the floor with your bum near the skirting board and your legs up the wall. If this is too much of a stretch on the backs of your legs either bend your knees a little or shuffle your bum a bit further away from the wall. Hold here while you inhale and exhale slowly at 10 times (or stay for as long as you like).

Tip: If you find your feet start to tingle try bending your knees and walking your feet down the wall, so you end up resting with your knees bend and drawn into your chest.

Corpse pose

You’ve earned it: time to make like a corpse and lie still! Lie flat on your back with your arms a little way out from the sides of your body. Experiment with whether you prefer your palms facing up or down, and let your feet fall out to the side. You may also want a blanket over you or under your head as a pillow. Take a couple of slow deep breaths, and then just lie still. Stay for at least three minutes, or as long as you can.

Tip: You might want to set a timer on your phone for however long you want to stay in this pose, so you don’t lie there wondering how much time has passed. Make sure you put your phone on silent though so you don’t get disturbed!

Breathing in backbends

Olivia Marley

We’ve started 2019 by focusing on breath, and in particular on the breathing technique called Ujjayi (slow and steady rhythm, with a slight sound in the back of your throat). As my students become more proficient in maintaining that breath, I’ve started to test them by bringing in poses that can be hard to breath in. Among those: backbends.

When you bend backwards, the back side of your body contracts to bring you into that shape (in the same way as when the front side of body contracts it makes you bend forward). There are three main reasons why I think I - and the people I observe in my classes - can find it hard to breathe in these types of postures.

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  1. Imagine yourself lying on your front and then doing locust pose/ shalabasana or cobra pose/ bhujangasana. The back side of your body contracts to bring you into that shape, but the front side of your body is pressed against the floor. So it can feel like there isn’t much room for your breath to expand in your body

  2. In some other backbends you’re not pressed against the floor but the posture itself is a bigger, more demanding shape. So imagine yourself in perhaps camel pose/ ustrasana or upward facing bow pose/ urdhva dhanurasana. The backside of your body is contracting to bring you into the shape, but the front side might be being so stretched that again it may feel like there’s not any available space for your body to expand when you want to inhale

  3. And lastly, consider the backbends in that short sequence we do over and over again in vinyasa yoga (plank -> lower down -> upward dog, locust, cobra or sphinx -> downward dog). It’s really common to take that backbend too fast, rather than making it last the entire length of a slow inhale.

So out of these, the third has the most obvious solution. Even though it takes way less strength to rush through that sequence quickly, slowing everything down will give you time to breathe in an unhurried way.

The first reason - feeling squashed against the floor - for most people just takes a bit of attention to solve. Even though your belly stays on the floor in those face down backbends your chest lifts. And your breath doesn’t just expand into the front and back of your body, but also the sides. So intentionally directing your breath into your chest and the sides of your ribs (while also moving slowly enough to give yourself time to take a full inhale) should help solve that issue.

So that brings us to the remaining problem of being in such a demanding shape that you can’t help holding your breath. In a discipline that sometimes mistakenly prioritises range of motion over integrity of motion and breath this might seem unsolvable. When in fact it’s super simple. Don’t go so far!

If you’ve practised yoga for a while you’ve more than likely done it: wanted to make a shape with your body so you’ve pushed beyond where you should have. But one of the key features that differentiates this practice from other movement disciplines is mindfulness and breath. If you find yourself in a backbend (or any other posture) and you can’t breathe steadily, try easing out a little. So in the photo above I could go a bit further into the shape but I’d start to find it hard to breathe. Someone else would hit that point in a different place to me, but the same rules still apply no matter what the shape... if you can’t breathe you’ve gone a bit far 🤷🏻‍♀️