A teacher’s perspective: How I practice yoga

A teacher’s perspective: How I practice yoga

Joanne Ewen is running our upcoming 50hr Vinyasa training alongside fellow Senior Teacher, Frankie Culpin.  Jo will be bringing her extensive experience of Ashtanga Yoga/Mysore practice to her Vinyasa training to provide a solid grounding in breath, bandha, alignment, flow and dedication to the practice itself.

In this blog piece we hear about Jo’s love of Ashtanga yoga and how it forms the basis for her regular daily practice.

By Joanne Ewen

Photo by Abi-Ponce Hardy

What type of yoga do you practice?

My love is Ashtanga yoga, which I practice daily.  

This keeps me focused, strong and inspired.  I take inspiration from postures/areas that I am currently working on during my self-practice and use this to help me and guide others.  I teach what I know and what I practice or have practiced myself over the years.  This is the key for me as a teacher and the information I am passing on and sharing with others.  

What are your favourite and least favourite yoga postures?

This changes over time and over the years.  I love when I realise that my relationship with a postures has changed without me realising.  That realisation that I used to not really like/enjoy a posture and then it starts to turn a corner.  

The relationship starts to change and you suddenly realise that you are more comfortable in the shape or you have managed to reach a milestone or it could be as simple as achieving a calm, steady breath in the posture! That makes me smile.

My all-time favourite, is ‘Janushirshasana A’.  (Anyone who comes to my classes might know this!)

I just love it because everyone can do it and get lots from it.  It can be adapted for everyone, and we can all get something from it.  It can be strong and active or it can be used in a more restorative, supported set up.  I can only explain that when I go into it, it’s a feeling like ‘coming home’.  The shape together with breath and focus is just magic.

Currently in my practice, I am loving the more challenging and energetic arm balances and strength work.  Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance) is one of the first arm balance in the intermediate series and is getting more stable and strong.  

Initially I was scared and used the wall, to find the wall and then try and establish the balance.  One of our visiting teachers, had been observing me and casually told me that ‘ falling out of this one…isn’t so bad!’.  It made me think.

Another friend and long-term Ashtangi, told me over coffee that she only found balance in this, once she allowed herself to fall.  So I thought about it and took the wall away.  I stayed on my mat in the middle of the room and got on with it.  I fell over lots!! It wasn’t so bad and over the months I fell out of it less and found more balance and strength.  I still fall, but less, and it depends on the day I’m having.  The change was when I took the fear out of falling.  The same is happening with my handstands.  No wall and lots of falling but getting stronger!

My least favourite postures that I have an on/off relationship with are Kurmasana/Supta Kurmasana (turtle posture and reclining turtle posture) / Eka pada sirsasana (foot behind head pose) .

They challenge me both physically and mentally.  They bring up fear of an old injury, but also they bring up feelings inside me of doubt and vulnerability.  My right side lower back/hip is a little more sensitive to this movement.  I had a period of pain in this area following the birth or my daughter and I think I hold a little fear that those feelings/sensations could arise again during this movement.  

My teacher, Sarah Hatcher, started to teach me Intermediate series and it has over the years healed my back and got me really strong.  I trust Sarah and feel confident with her helping me and adjusting me with these postures.  However, every so often I might get a niggle but this is usually caused if I am tired or have lifted my daughter in a odd position, for example lifting her out of her bed to take her to the loo in the middle of the night!  

Sometimes in my head I would rather skip them as I don’t want to face how they make me feel on some days, but I know that the only way to deal with them is to face up to them.  I’ve caught myself a few times starting to think about them as I do the postures before, I feeling of knowing what’s to come.  I’ve started to watch this and focus more on my breath and focus when these feelings come my way.  

We need to deal with and face up to things in life that we don’t always want too.  That’s life.  So I attempt them with care, breath and focus, I explore, and my teacher helps me explore.  We try new ways, we add props, we take them away, we add preparation postures and sometimes we take them away or change them.  

We change them up so I can explore what helps me shift old physical and mental memories and feelings.  Currently in my practice, I do a couple of preps of pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) and double pigeon, this gives me a good idea of how things are feeling.  

Then I get out the ‘Iyenger-style’ chair, and/or blocks, and make the shape of my leg behind the head but have the safe space/support of chair to let me stay longer, breath and slowly slowly work my body into my version of ‘eka pada’. The chair allows me to slowly invite my leg behind my head, without any pressure.  

The practice has to challenge you.  As a teacher/student you can’t just practice what you like and what you are ‘good’ at or what you think looks good to your class.  It has to be real with no frills and be the truth.

What do you do on days when your energy levels are low or you don’t feel like practicing?

As a regular practitioner of yoga, you start to become more and more in tune with your body and the natural cycles.  I know that my energy is naturally affected by my monthly cycle. During certain weeks of the month I know that I will more often than not have more or less energy and focus.  All this is true, but we all get days that we just don’t have that fuel in the tank or maybe just simply can’t be bothered!

Photo by Abi Ponce-Hardy

I try my best to listen to my body and notice what it feels.  Some days it’s simple, you just know it’s one of those days.  Other days, you don’t realise until you are on your mat and practicing and you start to realise that today isn’t the day.  Depending on what’s going on for me sometimes I realise that I just need a break, simple.  Whether that be extra rest, extra sleep or just simply spending extra time with my family.  I sometimes just know that I want extra time at home.

In general, on days that I know I’m not feeling up for it, I call on the following to help me:

  • If I’m tired or during my cycle, when I still want to move , I practice Matthew Sweeney’s Moon Sequence.  It’s a lovely grounding sequence, which involves a great hip opening, sequence, which is always great for me.  
  • I decide to do a short simple practice.  A ‘good’ practice doesn’t have to be a certain length of time or be a certain way.  Quality and effort is what counts. Maybe I just do 10/20 minutes, for example, sun salutations, standing postures, breathing and relaxation.  Or simple just have a play with some flowing postures.
  • Restorative practice.  Depending on how long I have, I get my bolsters, blocks, blankets and eye pillow.  Choose some simple restorative positions or one position, set myself up with some of my favourite yoga tunes or choose a guided ‘yoga nidra’ and zone out.
  • A pranayama practice. It doesn’t have to be complicated pranayama sequence; simply learning to sit and watch your breath is something everyone can do.

Meadowlark Yoga

Visit our studio on the edge of the Meadows, open 7 days a week offering Ashtanga Vinyasa and other styles of yoga. 43 Argyle Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1JT 0131 2287581