Much has happened since our last newsletter… Daniela is now a survivor of breast cancer (still undergoing treatment). The Yoga Room has made many adjustments including moving the Bali Retreat from June to October. We thank everyone for their enormous support over the last few months. We look forward to the next stage of the journey

Asanas of the Month
Yoga, Meditation and Breast Cancer
Embarrassing Question of the Month
Patanjali Yoga Sutra of the month
Quote of the Month
Upcoming Events
Previous newsletters


Asana of the month- Twists
‘Twists penetrate deep into the body’s core, offering potent benefits to the muscles and organs of the torso while encouraging the breath to grow deep and full. Practicing these postures regularly can create a suppleness and freedom in your spine that in turn brings a spring to your step’
Claudia Cummins

iyengar teaching
Like all yoga postures, twists should be done with care and precision. To get a really good understanding of twists, check out the following article by Julie Gudmestad, It appeared in the Yoga Journal way back in 2003.
Twisting Poses will help restore your spine’s natural range of motion, cleanse your organs, and stimulate circulation.
Try asking some non-yogis what they think happens in a yoga class, and at least one will answer that people get “all twisted up like a pretzel.” In fact, we yogis do twist a lot in a well-rounded yoga practice: We twist while sitting, standing, and standing on our heads. Because there is such an intriguing variety of twists, you might guess that twists provide an abundance of benefits. And they do. There are physiological benefits to the circulatory system and internal organs, structural benefits to the musculoskeletal system, and focusing benefits to your consciousness.

Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar describes twists as a “squeeze-and-soak” action: The organs are compressed during a twist, pushing out blood filled with metabolic by-products and toxins. When we release the twist, fresh blood flows in, carrying oxygen and the building blocks for tissue healing. So from the physiological standpoint, twists stimulate circulation and have a cleansing and refreshing effect on the torso organs and associated glands.

While these physiological benefits are undeniably valuable, this column will focus primarily on the functions of and benefits to muscles and joints used in twists. Yoga twists involve the spine, as well as several major joints, including the hips and shoulders. In fact, full range of motion in spinal rotation is essential to many yoga poses. Unfortunately, many people lose full spinal rotation in the course of living a sedentary lifestyle. Some losses can occur if joints fuse due to trauma, surgery, or arthritis, but most range of motion loss comes from the shortening of soft tissues. If you don’t lengthen the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (connective tissues) to their full length at least a few times a week, they will gradually shorten and limit the nearby joint’s mobility. In the case of twisting, the limitation is usually in soft tissues around the spine, abdomen, rib cage, and hips. If you regularly practice yoga twists, there are some clear benefits to these same joints and soft tissues. Not only do you maintain the normal length and resilience of the soft tissues, but you also help to maintain the health of the discs and facet joints (the small pair of joints on the back of the spine where each two vertebrae overlap).
A Twist a Day
To maintain or restore the normal spinal rotation, I recommend that you practice a simple spinal twist once or twice a day. (Note: If you have a spinal disc injury, consult your health-care provider before practicing twists of any kind.) A variation of the twist Bharadvajasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Bharadvaja) done sitting on a chair is an excellent option because it is so easy to integrate into everyday life.

Even in such a basic twist, however, there are a few anatomical points to keep in mind. Most important is to elongate the spine; a slumped-over posture significantly limits spinal rotation. So begin by sitting sideways on a stable, armless chair, and take a moment to ground your sitting bones and draw your spine straight up toward the crown of your head. Also, make sure that your spine is perpendicular to the chair seat, neither listing to the side nor to the front or back. The second important point to remember is that each section of the spine has a different rotational mobility. The cervical (neck) vertebrae, for example, are the most mobile in twisting. Because the 12 thoracic (midback) vertebrae have ribs attached, they can’t twist as freely as the neck vertebrae. And because of the orientation of the lumbar (lower spine) facet joints, the rotation of these five vertebrae is the most limited. So to ensure that you don’t overtwist in the more mobile parts of your spine, begin your seated twist by bringing your awareness into your lower back and beginning the twist from there. Let the twist gradually unfold up your spine, as though you were walking up a spiral staircase, so that each vertebra participates in the twist. If instead you twist quickly and without awareness, your neck will likely do most of the twisting, and whole sections of your spine can remain “stuck” and unmoving.

Once you’ve begun to rotate toward the back of the chair, you can use your hands on the corners of the chairback to deepen the twist in your spine and rib cage. Pull gently with the hand on the near corner and push with the hand on the far corner. Continue to sit tall, and don’t work so hard with the pulling hand that you draw that shoulder forward. As the twist unfolds all the way up into your neck, your head will turn, but be sure to keep your eyes and gaze soft. Hold the twist on each side for a minute or so, and use your breathing to help deepen the twist: On one exhalation, draw yourself taller; on the next exhalation, twist a bit more. With regular practice of this and other simple twists, your spine will regain its full potential for twisting.
Criss-Cross Action
Now that you know the basics about restoring your spine’s rotational range of motion, let’s take a look at muscle activity in twists. Many, many muscle groups are involved in twists, contracting and shortening or stretching and lengthening. There are several groups of back muscles of varying length—the rotatores, semispinalis, and multifidus—that contribute to spinal rotation. Some of the muscles that actively rotate the torso are quite small, like the intercostals, the layers of muscle between each two ribs. And several sets of muscles contribute to your ability to turn your head; the easiest to see is the sternocleidomastoid. The two SCMs sit on the front of your neck, forming a “V” starting at the top of the breastbone and running to the base of the skull just behind each ear. Look in a mirror: If you turn your head to the right, you’ll see your left SCM contract, and vice versa.

Probably the most important muscle group in active twisting is the abdominal obliques. The obliques form two layers of muscle on either side of the better-known rectus abdominus, the “six-pack” muscle that runs vertically up the center of the abdomen from the pubic bone to the rib cage. The two internal obliques, left and right, originate primarily from the pelvis and travel diagonally up across the abdomen, while the two external obliques originate primarily from the lower rib cage and travel diagonally down across the abdomen. All of the obliques have strong attachments to the substantial fascia of the lower back and to the abdomen.

Taken together, the four obliques form a diagonal cross that girdles the abdomen, and they have important functions in supporting the lower back, pelvis, and internal organs. The diagonal lines of the muscles also give them strong leverage in rotating the torso. When you turn to the right in Bharadvajasana, for example, the left external oblique will team with the right internal oblique to rotate your torso. At the same time, the opposite pair of obliques will have to lengthen. And so your twisting range of motion can be reduced by the inability of one pair (one external oblique and the other opposite internal oblique) to lengthen, while weakness in the opposite pair could limit your ability to actively draw yourself into the twist.

The obliques have a big part to play in yoga poses, and sometimes that role can be extremely demanding. Twisting arm balances such as Astavakrasana(Eight-Angle Pose), and Parsva Bakasana (Side Crane Pose) require big work from the obliques. If you’re not quite ready for the difficulties of arm balances, you can still challenge your obliques in standing poses like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), and Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose). Each of these poses requires a strong rotation of the torso against the pull of gravity. For example, when you perform Trikonasana to the right, your muscles actively twist your trunk and neck to the left so that your heart looks straight ahead, not at the floor, and your eyes look up at your left hand. But when you do Parivrtta Trikonasana to the right, your torso and neck twist strongly to the right, requiring strong contractions of the obliques, the spinal rotators, the intercostals, and the left sternocleidomastoid.

In addition to the regular practice of standing poses, you can help keep your obliques strong by practicing the full or modified versions of Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose). For the modified, milder version, lie on your back, with arms stretched out to the sides at shoulder height and knees pulled up toward your chest. Exhaling, smoothly drop both knees to one side, keeping your knees pulled up toward your arm. On your next exhalation, lift your legs back up toward your chest, flattening your back waist into the floor. For the full pose, lie on your back, arms outstretched again, and stretch your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Lower your straight legs toward the floor on one side (for the maximum challenge, don’t quite touch the floor). Keep stretching out through the soles of the feet; also, when you lift the legs back up to vertical, be sure to press the lower back flat. Since this can be quite a challenging pose, you may want to consult with your health-care provider before trying this if you have lower back or sacroiliac problems.

Now that you know how to reap the physiological and structural benefits of twists, you might also notice the centering benefits to your consciousness. As the layers of muscle and bone revolve deeply, your attention is drawn into the stable, unmoving center of the pose. And this ability to stay centered as the hubbub of the world swirls around you will pay obvious dividends in the yoga of daily living.
You can find more articles by Julie Gudmesdat on yoga postures at her website

Yoga, meditation and Breast Cancer
Daniela Casotti

Most of you know that at the beginning of the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the initial shock, I spent weeks agonizing over what I could have done to manifest this disease. At the same time, strong memories of my mother’s cancer battle – which resulted in her slow painful death – kept me awake at night. Depressed about the past and terrified about the future, I had very little time to focus on the present! Decisions had to be made, and actions had to be taken. Wasting time on ‘if only’s’ and ‘what if’s’, suddenly seemed careless and irresponsible.
daniela chemoYoga became more important than ever. It kept, and continues to keep me constructively present and actively contributing to the healing process.
Whilst conventional medicine removes the cancer from the physical body, yoga then works on balancing all the other aspects of our being- body, mind and spirit. It contributes to mental equilibrium, offers prolific techniques to facilitate relaxation, and it helps to counterbalance body aches, weakness and fatigue.
How yoga helps the Body: Asana (body postures)
Yoga sees the physical body as a posture that facilitates the movement of energy. Aligning our physical body in ways that makes it possible for our energy to move efficiently is the purpose of asana.
One set of Asana does not fit all cancer patients. Sometimes restorative postures are required to nurture aches, pain and fatigue, and sometimes stronger postures are required to keep the mind focused on the task at hand.
Restorative postures are intended to be soothing and calming. They are fully supported by bolsters, blocks, straps and blankets. They are designed to nourish you while you recuperate. Because the postures require no effort, you are able to stay in the pose for a longer time. Combined with simple breath awareness, it allows the mind to become introverted, facilitating meditation. I always use restorative postures after chemo, until my body feels stronger.
Not all cancer patients experience debilitating body aches all the time. Sometimes, strong emotions like fear and anger are predominant. At this point it can be beneficial to use more challenging postures that require stamina. This draws the mind away from the swirling effects of uncontrollable emotions, and gives the mind a focus. Soon these negative thoughts, like muscle tensions in the body, start to dissolve and a sense of balance is restored.
How yoga helps your Body and mind: Pranayama (breath/ energy)
Pranayama is the force that animates and connects body and mind. On a physical level, Prana regulates the supply of oxygen, improves digestion and elimination etc. On a mental level, it can be used to develop focus, strengthen willpower and bring about a sense of harmony.
Focusing on the breath is not only healing, it can assist you to relax. When your mind wavers, and gets caught up in thoughts of the past or the future, by watching the breath, you can bring it back to the present. A simple technique is to say to yourself ‘I am breathing in’ as you inhale, and ‘I am breathing out’ as you exhale, When I’m sitting in a waiting room – waiting for my doctors appointment, or in the middle of having chemotherapy, I can induce a calm state of mind by simply watching my breath.
How Yoga helps your Mind: Relaxation
The stress that accompanies knowing that you have cancer is overwhelming. Relaxation is essential. ‘
Through regular practice of relaxation we allow the body to find its own chemical equilibrium. The hormones and chemicals created through stress subside, and the body comes back to it’s ‘resting point’ where it experiences an internal stability- often referred to as homeostasis.
Petrea King (Quest for Life)

People often say ‘just relax’, but when your mind is overcome by anxiety it’s hard to ‘just relax’. A guided relaxation, like yoga nidra can help your mind to ‘unwind’. It progressively and systematically settles the mind, and brings about a deep sense of tranquility. Meditation can then be used to strengthen your ‘mental muscle’. It helps you to retain your focus.
People are constantly telling me to think positive thoughts. This is good advice. Being positive is definitely better and more productive than being negative. But it’s really hard to stay positive when you’re staring down the barrel of a life threatening disease. Every time I make myself think positive it’s a reminder that I have something negative that I’m trying to conceal.
Meditation teaches you to rise above you’re thoughts: both positive and negative ones. We come to understand that we don’t have to use up all our thinking power to create positive thoughts. Nor do we have to deplete our thinking power by getting weighed down by negative thoughts. We can remain mindful of both, but not get caught up in either. Being able to simply witness your passing thoughts gives them the freedom to express themselves, and you the freedom to not get trapped by them. Eventually, because you have removed yourself from this constant tussle between you and your thoughts, the thoughts start to become less predominant, and a sense of simplicity prevails.
The result is a state of harmony, peace and mental clarity that is full of possibilities, and free from the hindrance of fear.
If we can accept that primarily we’re spiritual beings who are embodied rather that bodies who happen to have spirits, then it can give us some meaning or framework in which to create our healing.
Kerry (cancer survivor).

Sincere and dedicated yoga practice merges body and mind with spirit. Keen and committed practice of asana, pranayama and meditation plus an unwavering responsibility towards your actions, opens up a ‘bigger picture’; one which is not limited by the state of the body or by our thoughts. It opens up the very heart of our being, a force that is so profoundly pure and uncontaminated, that the concept of disease doesn’t even enter into the equation.
If all our efforts are going into staying in a body at all costs, then we may be destined for disappointment. If our efforts go into healing ourselves of all that prevents us from truly living in the moment, then the rewards are certain to be abundant.
Petrea King (Quest for Life)

Embarrassing question of the month
Lots of us have questions that we are too embarrassed to ask in front of other students. Please email us and let us know what your embarrassing questions are, and we’ll do our best to answer them for you.
Should I tell the teacher when I’m menstruating?
Yes! Some postures nurture us while we’re menstruating, while others may be harmful. The teacher needs to know, so that they can recommend the best postures to assist the process of menstruation.
The start of the menstrual cycle is most sensitive. Both progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest. This means we may experience a lack of focus, and feel more tired and emotional. Because the body is expelling unneeded blood, the action may cause lower back pain and cramps. We may also be more susceptible to infections and viruses. By telling the teacher, they will be able to give you alternative postures that will focus on nurturing and purifying the body and improving your immune system.
‘In no way is there less to do. Woman can do plenty of sadhana (yoga practice) during menstruation and you have to practice in such a manner that you stay quietly for a while in each asana’ Geeta.
Sitting forward bends
These postures quieten the mind, reduce backaches, headaches and fatigue. Using certain props to support you can bring additional benefits.
Supported Reclining postures
These postures can reduce pelvic discomfort, and abdominal cramps. They relax the nerves and counteract fatigue.
Gentle, supported backbends (e.g. on a chair)
Can be beneficial to maintain hormonal balance, and energize you if you feel fatigued. However, they shouldn’t be done if the bleeding is heavy.
Alternative Standing Postures
Certain standing postures can be used to relieve lower back pain, cramping, excessive bleeding and bloating. If the teacher knows that you are menstruating they can show you these alternatives.
‘The inversions arrest the flow. When you are standing on your head or on your shoulders you retain that which is only fit to be thrown out’ Geeta Iyengar. Reversal of gravity on the uterus can strain ligaments and cause the vessels supplying blood to the uterus to become partially blocked.
They put too much pressure on the lower abdominal organs, and may cause flooding and clotting of menstrual blood. You can practice ‘open twists such as baradvajrasana but even this should be avoided if you are bleeding heavily.
Strong Backbends
When menstruating, it is important to keep the reproductive organs soft and in their correct alignment. Strong backbend over stimulate, and can effect the natural rhythms of the body.
Dynamic Standing poses
These are not suitable because during menstruation heat is being discharged from the body. Dynamic standing poses create heat, disturbing rather than enhancing the process of elimination.
Core Strengthening Poses
Anything that compresses and places stress on the abdominal organs, also places stress on our uterus. Relaxing this area is important during menstruation.

Patanjali Yoga Sutra of the month
yog??g?nu??h?n?da?uddhik?aye jñ?nad?ptir?vivekakhy?te?||28||

Chapter 2 verse 28
By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates in glory.
BKS Iyengar. Light on the yoga sutras of Patanjali pg 132


Quote of the month

“Health is not just the absence of clinical disease. Health is a dynamic state of being”
Petrea King

Upcoming events
Bali Retreat dates in October
Good news! Our Bali retreat has been rescheduled to the 14th – 27th October, plus we have added one extra night for the same price!
bali sunsetEven more good news! In August, Maurice will going to RIMYI, the heart and soul of Iyengar yoga- in Puna, India. For one month, he will be studying under the expert guidance of Geeta and Prashant Iyengar, daughter and son of the master B.K.S. Iyengar!
So, our Bali retreat will be more than an amazing opportunity to get away from the pressures of life. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in yoga in a chilled out environment, and have the rare opportunity to explore the latest developments in Iyengar yoga with Maurice!
Added to this, they’ll be plenty of time to marvel over the phenomenal sunsets, be awe struck by the magnificent beaches, be mesmerized by wide open rice fields… and plenty of time to celebrate life!
For further information…Bali 2013 Yoga Retreat