Zen yoga is an energetic system from East Asia that focuses on three things:
energy – building energy when you are feeling like your 'battery' is low
alignment – of the body in poses and also the alignment of the mind & body, on & off the mat
mindfulness – to act more present, not getting caught up in the worries over the future (that probably won't happen the way you worry it will anyway,) and the past that has already happened and can’t be changed...so not worth the energy. Also, to observe the thoughts in the mind to change the over-analyzing and replaying of thoughts or situations.
In NY, I used to teach hatha yoga and mobility before moving to England 8 years ago. I loved it but something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Having studied Buddhism since I was 18, dipping in and out a bit, I was always interested in the fact that it’s not a religion, it’s a way of thinking that has so many similar beliefs to major religions yet it’s about finding the answers that we already have within ourselves – if only we can quiet the mind's chatter to find the peace and calm that is often buried deep inside. Zen yoga classes don’t overtly discuss Buddhism though as mindfulness was created by the Buddha, I talk about how we use our minds and our energy as we go through life. Did I mention I'm from NY?! I like to have fun and I don't take all this yoga stuff so seriously though I do meditate everyday and it's changed my life. The classes are fun and friendly and often full of laughter. I explain to you why we do things rather than just tell you what to do.
For many people, the thought of having peace and calmness in the mind seems impossible and almost miraculous. That’s how I felt too. I discovered zen yoga after having gained quite a bit of weight, being incredibly stressed (but thinking that I wasn’t stressed because I was too busy to think that...) I assumed that all of this was just a part of getting older and being a parent. Oh yeah, and developing severe back pain where I couldn’t sit for longer than a few minutes.
Quite a problem.
NB: I’m sure some people would say that the weight I was, wasn’t thaaaat much but I’ve gone down by FOUR sizes so that was a lot for me. I did it by learning to calm my overactive mind which helped me to make smarter choices. I didn't set a big goal or use unsustainable fad diets or clubs. I started moving and being mindful in everything I did.
I had always been quite healthy but I let the stress of work, kids, and keeping up with everything get the best of me and I didn’t know how to change it or where to begin. And in some ways, I didn’t even notice it was happening I just suddenly got to a place that I couldn’t understand how it got that far. And it's so incredibly common these days.
In early 2017 I had two surgeries on my lower back. That’s when I realized things were really not great but I didn’t attribute the chronic pain to chronic stress. After the procedures, I was stuck on the sofa and watched everything that Netflix had to offer… and then I was bored. I needed to move my body but didn’t know really what to do. Stupidly no one told me that resting that amount of time is the worst thing you can do for a back.
So the obvious next step: search YouTube.
I found zen yoga…I got up and just started trying it. Mindful movement you can call it. It heats up the body while working the meridian lines, is low impact, gentle yet challenging, really grounding and calming and I felt freakin’ amazing after. Seemed too good to be true. What happens with mindful movement, research now shows, is that with slower styles of yoga the brain creates new neural pathways. Overtime with regular practice, a person will have a sense of homeostasis, more balance in the mind. It was this mindful movement that gave me the confidence to keep trying and to appreciate this body that showed up for me every single day. That's how I began to get a healthier mind and body - because I observed the thoughts in my mind and then flipped the script.
Zen yoga uses typical yoga poses, breathing practices (pranayama,) qigong (like tai chi but not tai chi,) mindfulness and meditation. Compared to ashtanga yoga or vinyasa flow yoga, zen yoga is slower paced though not any less challenging! Of course, every teacher has their own style of teaching and the way I teach is offering many adaptions so each person can choose what feels right for their body that day. Oftentimes in a class, people are all doing different positions so if you are nervous to join a class, don’t be…you will find what is right for you because there are so many options in a pose. No (wo)man gets left behind!
Many people joining a zen yoga class have never tried yoga before. Although there are a lot of people that come who have tried vinyasa or ashtanga and find that it’s too fast and can be damaging to the body - because these styles of yoga are fast, you often don’t have time to check alignment to see if you are doing anything wrong which can cause pain & repetitive stress over time. Zen yoga classes are smaller purposely, so I can see if there is something you could change to make it easier or better for your body.
Back to energy, alignment and mindfulness…
We can use our energy to stress out, not love the body that we are in, doubt ourselves OR can choose to do other things than take a step in a new direction. We can start moving, learn to create space in the mind giving ourselves a well-needed break, using these practices to create calm in the mind. With many types of yoga, when you leave the class you have to watch a video or remember a complicated sequence to get the benefits before you come back next week. Zen yoga can include long sequences though it also teaches simple practices and tools that are easy to remember so you can find calm in your daily life while stuck at a traffic light or even in a meeting at work.
You will learn mindfulness practices so that when you leave the class, you remember to slow down and are better able to notice when you begin to feel stressed so you can do something about it rather than let it spiral. This is a lifestyle, not something you do for an hour each week.
It’s not your average yoga.