2009 Event Reviews

Winslow CPD Day - November 2009
Domus Mariae Remedial Event - September 2009
Highgate House - April 2009

YHET CPD Day, Yoga and the Menopause, Winslow, Bucks, Sunday 22/11/09 by Alison Tucker

The Winslow centre in Buckinghamshire was an excellent venue for YHET’s first Continuous Professional Development day and was attended by 19 teachers, student teachers and keen students.

We all shared a feast of knowledge on the subject of Menopause – very ably taught by Carol Smith (Sannyasi Mahamani).

We looked at the anatomy, diet, mudras, and asana practice related to the subject and also sampled the ‘HRT’ cake which tasted very good!

In the afternoon we explored ideas from Ayurveda regarding menopause, enjoyed another asana session ‘Carol’s Joyful Yoga Practice’ to practice to lift spirits during what can be a challenging time in life.

The whole day was informative, interesting and fun!

Looking forward to the next one…………….


Review of September 2009 Remedial Event at Domus Mariae by Mary Milne.

Domus Mariae has proved a very popular venue for weekend courses but for some reason the five day course at the end of September did not prove quite so popular. But for a chance remark made by June Skeggs at the end of the last trustee meeting it is likely that it would have been cancelled, but not wanting to disappoint the two people who had already booked we decided that, as long as we could cover our costs, why not go anyway, it would be a really good break. The venue was already booked and if paying a teacher wasn’t within our budget we could always do our own yoga sessions and between us we have plenty of relaxation tapes and CDs we could use for other sessions. In the end we were very fortunate that Helena Read, who lives just a few miles from Domus Mariae, offered to come in and take the morning yoga sessions for us.

I set off on the Sunday aiming to arrive in plenty of time, but what with road works and not being sure of where I was going, I arrived to find everyone already having dinner. After dinner I was shown to my room and was pleasantly surprised to find it was a decent sized single room, bright and airy with a large window. I have to admit that before I went I was a bit concerned about the lack of ensuite facilities, but there was a large sink in the room and a bathroom right next door so any concerns soon disappeared.

There were six of us on the first night and after dinner we gathered in one of the sitting rooms for a welcome meeting with Helena. Afterwards we tried not to doze off as Helena took us through a relaxation on our mats to ease out our travel stresses, then it was a hot drink and off to bed. I had thought it might be chilly and had packed some warm pyjamas and bed socks, but there was no need as the whole house is very well heated.

As there were only five of us for yoga we decided to use one of the sitting rooms rather than the large hall and it worked really well. Not knowing our yoga levels Helena led us in a gentle session on Monday morning, followed by meditation and then lunch. We had some time after lunch each day to rest or enjoy the lovely gardens followed by a variety of afternoon sessions, including a talk Helena gave on the Sutras. After dinner most evenings we either had a yoga nidra, a relaxation visualisation or a social evening.

Sadly Jill had to leave on Tuesday morning to go back to work, but hopefully refreshed by her short break. We were joined on Tuesday by Sue Eddy, another YHET member who is a physiotherapist and acupuncturist. During our sessions, Sue gave us some valuable tips to incorporate into our practice. Tuesday afternoon was spent with June taking us through different foot strengthening exercises and showing us how we could use chairs as an aid to help with balance. This was followed by a session on breathing where we learned the difference between breathing into our abdominal and thoracic areas and the effect breathing into the different areas has on the body and our energy levels. We finished the session by using our increased lung capacity to blow up or, for some of us trying to blow up, balloons. In our defence they were extremely thick balloons!!

We had not long settled on our mats on Wednesday morning when Carol Smith, who was taking the afternoon session, arrived. Although Carol probably intended simply observing the morning session she was soon drawn in and we gained some valuable insights into how we could use chairs and door handles to assist with various postures. After lunch Carol took us through a fascinating session based on the Manamaya Kosha, followed by Pranayamas to deepen and slow the breath.

Deborah Hopkinson arrived after lunch on Thursday and led us through a breathing session based on what she had learned during a recent course with Dr Shrikrishna. After dinner Deborah also led a Chakra relaxation and I surprised myself by managing to stay awake the whole way through.

I have to mention the absolutely superb food. The chef did us proud and I still can’t believe I managed to eat 2 cooked meals each day but I seemed to manage it with ease. I had resolved to be dairy, wheat and sugar free for the week, but there always seemed to be a delicious desert on offer and I’m afraid my resolve didn’t last very long!

Friday morning seemed to arrive so quickly. A last yoga session and meditation followed by lunch and it was time to head for home. I’d like to say a huge thank you to Helena for giving so much of her time to work with us over the week and to June, Sue, Carol and Deborah. I’m sure we have all taken some good tips home to add to our own practice.

It was a few days full of wonderful yoga and relaxation. We had so much to laugh and chat about and I look forward to when we meet again.


Highgate House Day of Yoga, Creaton, Northants, Saturday 18/4/2009 by Helen Worth.

I arrived on Friday afternoon hoping for a relaxing, leisurely preparation for the Yoga day on Saturday. It was a beautiful afternoon, so I went for a stroll around the village of Creaton, taking in the village green, church and unspoilt rural landscape. Back at the hotel I managed a few lengths of the pool and a quick sauna. So much for the leisurely approach, by now I needed a rest in my enormous king sized bed, before joining the other group members who were staying overnight. Meeting some new faces and some I recognised, I ate a huge amount and eventually staggered to bed determined to be ready at 8 for the early morning stretch with Jane Da Costa.

The early morning stretch was a lovely way to start the day. We felt calm, relaxed and ready for breakfast. Some more participants, (ranging from experienced teachers to complete novices) had arrived in time to join us, and after a sumptuous feast with a vast choice of different food we were warmly welcomed by the trustees present, and moved into the next yoga session with Alison Francis, focussing on the spine. This was particularly relevant for me as a recurrent back injury was one reason that brought me to yoga. I loved the first activity feeling the warmth and support of a partner’s back against mine. She moved us expertly around, with asana for all areas of the back. It was great to be shown the facsimile model spine as we were working, and recognise which part was being targeted.

Next was a guided meditation with chanting led by Neelam Taneja; a peaceful, heart opening way to complete the morning.

Lunch was another fantastic array of mouth watering buffet dishes, which was consumed with relish as we attempted to complete Neelam’s questionnaire to ascertain which ayurvedic characteristics we had. When we had eaten our fill we relaxed as we tried to concentrate (always tricky after a huge meal!) on Neelam’s talk in which he explained the role of emotions, feelings and thoughts in our lives, and how we can manage them in order to live a fruitful, worthwhile and happy life.

After this we were offered a difficult choice of a gentle, healing yoga session with Martine Harvey or a more active session with Carol Smith. I chose the latter with some trepidation as I knew there were experienced teachers in the group and I couldn’t help feeling that I might find it too challenging. However I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly, non-judgemental atmosphere where everyone was encouraged to do just what was right for them. It was extremely interesting to practice as Carol explained how to alter the asana to suit our particular ayurvedic dosha. It provided much food for thought and left me feeling wonderfully calm and relaxed. I especially enjoyed the 27 breath meditation at the end.

We regrouped for a fond farewell with lots of well deserved thanks to all the organisers and a special mention for the incredibly helpful and polite staff of the hotel, before heading for the car park and re-entry into “real life”.

I was left with an overwhelming feeling of peace and calm, and a continuing conviction of how vital it is to include yoga and meditation in everyday life. If there was one piece of wisdom I brought away with me it was the practice of offering or dedicating ones practice to a higher cause such as friend or family member in need. It reminded me of the lovely heart opening Buddhist metta (loving kindness) meditation. As St Francis of Assisi reminds us; “it is in giving that we receive.


Highgate House Day of Yoga, Creaton, Northants, Saturday 18/4/2009 by Dr Lydia Prosper-Grant.

The venue was in the tranquil setting of Highgate House in the Northamptonshire countryside, with ample grounds for taking in the scenery.

The yoga day started with a pre-breakfast morning stretch led by Jane De Costa that helped to gently awaken the body and mind to prepare for the day ahead and after breakfast, there was a brief greeting from the trustees.

The morning session led by Alison Francis concerning the “Yogic Way to Spinal Health” really helped to isolate and mobilise the lumbar, thoracic and cervical vertebrae i.e. each main section of the spine. The deeply relaxing cool down phase was followed by a short half hour break for refreshments.

Dr Neelam Taneja’s Mantra Meditation Practice started before lunch. This meditation was conducted in the traditional method of the teacher reciting the mantra followed by the class repetition until it was spoken in unison and then recited in the mind in silence, and helped to soothe and dissolve any mental and physical tension. After a delicious lunch we were given an informative talk on the “Ayurvedic Principles for Inner Healing” by Dr Neelam Taneja. We were all asked to fill in a questionnaire prior to the talk to assess our constitution types or doshas. He summarised the basic principles of each type and how the ayurvedic principles can be used to help heal through a more balanced way of being.

After tea, attendees could choose between a reasonably active session led by Carol Smith or a more gentle practice led by Martine Harvey. I attended Carol Smith’s session and was thoroughly entertained as she clearly summarised the distinct constitution or dosha types (vata, pitta and kapha) by physically demonstrating their mental attitudes towards yoga. Carol explained how they could all do the same pose but with different levels of physical and mental effort depending on the predominant dosha. This session involved sun salutations, standing poses, balances and seated forward bends followed by chanting mantras, pranayama (breath control) and meditation to draw the session to a close. The attendees then reconvened all together to wish farewell in what was a traditional practice of standing in a circle with everyone linked together.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable yoga day that catered for all levels of yoga practice and ability. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful and the food was delicious while catering for special dietary requirements. Considering the cost included breakfast, refreshments, lunch and tea, this yoga day represented extremely good value.


Highgate House Day of Yoga, Creaton, Northants, Saturday 18/4/2009 by Jo Wellstead.

(Yoga for the completely uninitiated!)

When I was first contacted by Jane, a very good friend of mine, about a Yoga event she was helping to organise in April I was initially sceptical, not to mention slightly disbelieving, of her bold statement that “..If you have a pulse you can do yoga!” She was aware that I had never done yoga before, but was adamant that it would be a wonderful and enlightening experience for me. Surely though, the various positions which these yoga bods have to bend themselves into were quite impossible? As a Pilates convert I can appreciate a strong core and have moderate to good flexibility, but how would all this twisting and turning give me a better sense of well-being?

I was really keen to support Jane though, and also felt it would be something my mum would benefit from having recently had a knee operation, as well as having a history of back problems, so I agreed to join in for the day. Mum had taken yoga classes many years ago but was worried that she was too old and too out of shape to sit on the floor like a pretzel! Undeterred though I convinced her that we would be fine, and also agreed that if our worst fears were realised, we could always hide at the back!

Arriving at Highgate House on the 18th April, we were greeted by friendly, efficient and welcoming staff, and shown to the conservatory where a large group were enjoying breakfast. Surveying the scene was a sensory delight! The smell of a well cooked breakfast coupled with the lively chatter of the people seated around the large square tables set me on the first step towards that promised sense of ‘well-being’, and I hadn’t even unrolled my mat yet.

Attending my first ever yoga class on “The Yogic Way to Spinal Health” taken by Alison Francis, I thought I would feel somewhat inadequate. Would people all around me have their bodies twisted in some of the most unimaginable postures? What was made immediately clear to me was that the people executing my ‘imagined’ complex poses started off in yoga thinking exactly the same way that I was thinking. The reality is that Yoga is a flexible exercise and each person starts and finishes at their own pace.

As we went further through the morning and took part in the Meditation session led by Dr Neelam Taneja I scanned the room. There was everyone from beginners to advanced practitioners, from the able-bodied to the disabled and from old to young and each and every one of them embraced the concept that balance, strength and flexibility are all bi-products of yoga practice. Yoga’s underlying purpose is to consciously bring us back into mental, physical, and spiritual harmony. I have to say though; I felt very self conscious about my first OM !

Lunch was a jolly and thoroughly enjoyable affair; the hotel provided an excellent buffet that seemed to be enjoyed by all. Part of our lunch break was spent completing a Vedic Worldview Questionnaire, its aim being to assess our basic nature type and work out our current state. I was a very clear Pitta! At the time of completion I had no idea what it all meant but I was reliably informed that during the last session of the day it would all become clear to me!

The strong message from Neelam’s afternoon session was that “Yoga was not just for the mat”, that as we practice yoga, the mind becomes still which enables us to listen to ourselves and heal our emotions through mental discipline. For most of us (and by that I mean us outsiders looking in) this is a totally new phenomenon.

If you ‘Google’ Yoga it literally means “union” and “balance”. Neelam explained that Yoga is a union of the body, mind and soul. That our body and mind work together as a team and that our emotions are our body’s reaction to our mind. As we teach our mind to approach our body with kind, compassionate and non-judgmental thoughts, our body will understand that energy as love and will respond favourably. As we heal our mind, our bodies’ health will naturally follow. The only thing that is likely to affect our own progress is our own mind; keep it open and we cannot fail to learn.

Yoga by its very nature is challenging. It is a non-competitive exercise. Sincere effort is its only requirement. Carol explained that, depending on our “Vedic Type” we would approach the various poses in different ways and that we would learn how to work with our self, not against it. As one of only two complete novices in the room Carol was kind enough to walk me through the more complicated poses and I think that what I lacked in fluidity of movement I made up for with enthusiasm (you yoga buffs will appreciate that us Pittas do not lack enthusiasm!). It soon became very clear to me that straining would not expedite my endeavours but just impede them.

As the day drew to a close and we were all partaking in a group hug (again the self conscious side of me had to be tamped right down) I looked at the group and reflected on the fact that we all have different bodies that succeed or fail us to different degrees, and that this is what makes each of us unique. Yoga allows us to not get caught up in what others are doing around us, but to just stick to our own body and do the best we can. The moment we stop competing and comparing ourselves with others, we can allow Yoga to lead us to greater health, vitality and understanding. Don’t leave the room or become discouraged. Just lie down until you feel better and forget about missing any poses. Rejoin when you feel able. Those were the guiding principles of our last session of the day led by Carol Smith. This was also where the questionnaire came into play!

It was a wonderful day, punctuated, for me, by mini revelations. By the end of the session I certainly knew a little more of myself, which had been so gently revealed that I wasn’t unhappy with what I had discovered! My thanks are extended to everyone who patiently listened to my doubts about my lack of experience, to the teachers who succeeded in educating my body and my mind, and, to the organisers of the day and the staff at Highgate House who made the whole event seamless, which is more than I can say for my ‘Salute to the Sun’!

Jo Wellstead, Yoga Novice!



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