Beginners guide to yoga

Don’t be fooled by pictures of fancy yoga poses. The true practice of yoga begins with the desire to live a more peaceful existence, yet this is rarely the reason that will first bring you onto the mat.  As a beginner you may be completely unaware of the thing that brings students back to the mat time and time again, which is the connection of breath, mind, body and spirit.  As a beginner all I knew was that I felt, lighter, taller and ‘more like myself’ after a class.

Yoga is a doorway to a state of harmony that often gets lost amongst the constant buzzing of our phones, replying to emails and getting caught up in the busyness of life.



Why do people keep coming back to yoga?

Most people first come to yoga to get more flexible, or to be thinner or move better, of even get dragged along to class by a friend or partner. Some pursue yoga for the many health benefits, injury prevention or healing from injury or disease. Few people are even drawn to yoga to help find more calm and clarity and to answer some of the confusion and chaos in their lives, but what keeps all of them coming back is essentially the same.

A commitment to the sometimes challenging path of yoga brings us back home to ourselves and leads the way into happiness, bliss and contentment. One important factor in a student’s journey into this inner realm is the guidance they receive during their first year. Like a toddler, the beginner’s mind and heart are open, trusting in the information and guidance they receive. There is a huge responsibility on the teacher to lead the student with integrity, humility, wisdom and compassion. This precious first stage will often determine whether a student will continue on the path of yoga for its deeper psychological and spiritual benefits or be thrown out when the new fitness trend emerges.


Crucial points for a beginner yogi

  • The goal of yoga is to bring your mind into a more calm and focused state and is more relevant than attaining the physical poses.
  • It will be harder than you think at first, you will be using small muscles to balance and refine positions that you may not have used much, you will wobble, you may fall or stumble, and those things are great, you are using your mind and body in new ways and creating new connections.
  • Relax and be patient, creating a sustainable practice for life rather than chasing elusive poses or trying to fast track the spiritual process. Just turn up on the mat and do the work.
  • Aim to get on the mat 3 times a week and up to 6. Bringing a small and achievable practice into your daily life will bring more benefit than one class every few weeks. Start your mornings with a few sun salutes and notice how you feel moving into your day.
  • Find a great teacher to guide you and inspire you – someone who is clear, open and attentive. Find a teacher who focuses more on how you do things rather than what you do.


How do I know which yoga style to choose?

In a world where we are spoiled for choice, yoga is no exception.  The large variety of yoga to choose from can be confusing and overwhelming.  Here are some main styles to help you find whats right for you.  If you are beginning, try out a few different styles of classes and look out for a great teacher perhaps being more important than style.



By definition, hatha is a physical yoga practice, which is pretty much all yoga you’ll find in this hemisphere. One of the six original branches of yoga, hatha encompasses nearly all types of modern yoga. In other words, hatha is the ice cream if styles like ashtanga and Bikram are vanilla and chocolate chip. Today, classes described as hatha on studio schedules are typically a basic and classical approach to yogic breathing exercises and postures.



This is a purist yoga named after founder B.K.S. Iyengar. Props like blocks, straps, harnesses, and incline boards are used to get you more perfectly into positions and have earned the style its nickname ‘furniture yoga’. Appropriate for all ages and abilities, Iyengar yoga is all about precise alignment and deliberate sequencing. Don’t take that to mean easy.



Six established and strenuous pose sequences — the primary series, second series, third series, and so on — practiced sequentially as progress is made. Ashtangis move rapidly, flowing from one pose to the next with each inhale and exhale. Each series of poses linked by the breath this way is called a vinyasa.



This is an active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s to appeal to aerobic-crazed Westerners. After having studied with Pattabhi Jois, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest simultaneously pioneered this westernised ashtanga on the East and West coasts, respectively. Power yoga doesn’t stick to the same sequence of poses each time like ashtanga does, so the style varies depending on the teacher. Classes called vinyasa or flow in your gym or studio can be vastly different but in general stem from this movement and from ashtanga as well.



A quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga. Yin focuses on lengthening connective tissues and is meant to complement yang yoga—your muscle-forming ashtanga, Iyengar, Power Vinyasa and others. Yin poses are passive, meaning you’re supposed to relax muscles and let gravity do the work.  And they’re long — you’ll practice patience here too.



A physical, limit-pushing practice that reintegrates yoga’s traditional spiritual elements in an educational way for Western practitioners. Expect a theme for each class, Sanskrit chanting, and references to ancient scripture. Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 in New York City, jivamukti translates to ‘liberation while living’.



Bikram features yoga poses in a sauna-like room. The heat is cranked up to nearly 40 degrees and 40 percent humidity in official Bikram classes. If it’s called Bikram (for inventor Bikram Choudhury), it will be a series of 26 basic yoga postures, each performed twice.



The practice of kundalini yoga features constantly moving, invigorating poses. The fluidity of the practice is intended to release the kundalini (serpent) energy in your body. Weren’t aware you had any? Well, just think of it as an energy supply, coiled like a sleeping snake at the base of the spine, waiting to be tapped; the practice aims to do just that — awaken and pulse the stuff upward through the body.


Wake up and get on the yoga mat

Get up before the chaos begins and take some time just for yourself. Beginning your day with a few rounds of sun salutes adding on each week and see how much better your day kicks off.

How men can benefit from a regular practice of yoga

Yoga increases flexibility, establishes mindfulness, and enhances athletic performance. If men reap so many benefits from practising yoga, why are dudes almost always outnumbered in yoga classes?

There is no denying the boom in yoga over the past decade in the western world. A US Yoga Journal market study reported that 4 out of 5 students are women and I’d have to say from my observation that would be even less here in NZ. From studying the origins of yoga and understanding its rich history that goes back thousands of years, it’s ironic that today most classes are filled with women. 


Did you know that classical yoga was a male-only practice?

Yoga is a system of beliefs — specifically an eight-limbed path — which includes physical and mental exercises.  This belief system was once entirely male and once isolated to India.

Yoga is a holistic practice where you can strengthen your muscles, become more flexible, clear headed and focused while improving your overall health and wellbeing - why would you not go to class? I’m going to attempt to clarify a few things that may be holding you or your guy back from this practice that can give you so many benefits.

Saying you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath.

The most common thing I hear from men and one of the biggest misconceptions is, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” The popular image of yoga can be partly to blame for this, the slim women in contorted positions are plastered everywhere to sell yoga clothes, yet this is not the true image of yoga. Yoga is for everyone, regardless of how flexible you are. It’s like saying, “I’m not strong enough to go to the gym and lift weights.” You’d start with light weights and build up. Yoga is the same, there are plenty of props and modifications to use so that you work your way into poses just like building strength in the gym.

Yoga is friggin’ hard! But you can’t master it!

There is so much to learn about yourself in the yoga practice, which is ultimately one of the main reasons people stay. But for those new to yoga, especially physically fit, strong, able men, this can be really confronting. These are the guys that will be panting and grunting their way through class wondering why it’s so hard. Even the most basic poses continue to challenge long-time practitioners. To do yoga is really to adopt an entirely new way of thinking, a way of thinking that is different and maybe even contrary to the way that men are accustomed to thinking in our Western society. There is nobody to beat and you can’t ‘win’ at yoga. Once guys get used to this way of thinking their yoga practice becomes a welcome relief from judgment and pressure.

Real men do yoga

It is well established that throughout its long history, yoga has been reserved for men, and usually only for those who exhibited great physical and mental prowess.  Traditional asana is designed for men’s bodies with its straight lines and angles.  It was only in the ‘60s and ‘70s as the Americans adopted a slower more gentle style of yoga, and marketed it at the the ‘stay at home mums’ that things changed. As yoga has been modernised, some of the worlds elite athletes like LeBron James, Novak Djokovic our very own All Blacks and New Zealand Warriors incorporate yoga into their training.

Something for everyone

There really is a style of yoga these days  to suit everyone. There are strong power vinyasa practices for the more athletic person wanting more of a workout, slower steady styles to focus and discipline the mind, slow softer practice to relax and destress and aid muscle recovery.  So if you go to a class that is too slow and relaxing for you then try something more dynamic (if thats what you want) or if your training is already strong then try a Yin or a restorative style to balance and focus the mind. The moral of the story is if you go to a class and don’t particularly like it, then don’t stop there. Keep searching until you find a teacher and a style that fits you. 

Lastly, don’t be afraid of being a beginner. It takes years and years of dedicated yoga practice to really be able to hold your own in an open or advanced class. Accept this reality, and you can set off on the rewarding and challenging journey that is yoga. Let your ego get in the way, however, and you’ll find yourself continually frustrated and unable to get much out of your yoga experience.

Yoga can help you stress less, gain perspective and feel a whole lot better in your physical and mental self.  


Five ways to better posture with yoga

We have entered the age where there is a modern day health problem called ‘tech neck.’  Improper posture while using technology is a very common factor in poor posture and technology is recognised as one of the principle causes of this modern day posture epidemic.

The funny this is you may be reading this on your phone, iPad or laptop. If so, don’t change a thing about your posture and check how your body positioned. Is your head forward? Are your shoulders rounded?  Is your lower back slumped?  How does your lower back feel? Or perhaps take a look around you and observe other people’s posture, and the way it slips and almost folds inwards.

Over long periods of time, maintaining this head-forward posture can lead to muscle strain, disc injury, nerve impingement and arthritic changes of the neck—and the potential for developing ongoing neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and pain radiating down the arms.

This is how our tech savvy children are growing up and creating postural habits like this from a young age. There is no getting away from technology and we need to use it in our culture to stay up to date and relevant, but when you consider the kind of risks mentioned, it adds a whole other layer. Just as we have learnt to embrace technology, we also must learn to adopt tools and strategies to counterbalance these new stressors on our system.

5 ways to counterbalance ‘tech neck’

Take regular breaks

Set your timer for every 15-20 minutes to get up, move around and do these poses throughout your day to counteract the effects of phone and laptop use. These poses lengthen the front muscles of the neck, which tend to get shortened when we hunch over a screen or a keyboard. They also realign the shoulders and upper thoracic spine, freeing the lower cervical vertebrae. Restoring a natural curve in the spine also opens the shoulders and may even ease rotator cuff and elbow pain.

Baby cobra pose

  • Lay on your belly, with your palms pressing into the floor just beside your lower front ribs.
  • Firm up your legs and press the tops of the feet to the floor.As you inhale peel your spine up off the floor, head moving last.  
  • Draw your shoulder heads back plugging the arm bones into the sockets, curl your shoulder blades down the back and into your heart.
  • You can float the hands so that your upper back muscles are holding you.
  • Lower as you exhale and repeat twice more. 
  • Option for a little more, on the final one you can move the top of the thoracic spine (around shoulder height) and the bottom of the cervical spine (around shoulder height) in toward the front body and take chin up for an extra stretch.


Downward facing dog pose

0F2A9483 2 2.jpg
  • From hands and knees, align hands directly beneath shoulders and knees directly beneath hips.
  • Press the index knuckle down to engage your forearms. Lift the armpits up toward the ears. Use gravity to soften and melt arm bones into the sockets.
  • Keeping the arms straight, lift lower body into downward facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana) while the rest of the body stays the same.
  • Keep the armpits lifted, up away from the floor not ‘dumping into’ the shoulder joint.
  • Then stretch heels back into the full pose without dropping the armpits, keep knees bent if you need its more important to to keep a long spine to decompress the lumbar area.



Neck and forearm reset

  • You can do this one seated in any position, even at your desk. Sit up tall.
  • Bring the palms together in front of your chest, with the wrists at elbow height (the heal of the hands may not be touching if you are tight in the wrists, thats ok!)
  • Again lift the armpits up towards the ears, getting long in the sides of the body, draw the arm bones back into the shoulder sockets, so that the chest is bright and proud.
  • Draw the chin and forehead evenly back a few centimetres.
  • As you exhale press the hands over to the right as you turn your head to the left.
  • Repeat a few times with mindful alignment.



Use technology more mindfully

Wouldn’t it be great if we could practise yoga all day? Just imagine how good you would feel. Well, guess what?  You can! Take your yoga off the mat and choose to use technology more mindfully. Set boundaries around usage for yourself and children, get up and take regular breaks, incorporate tools, stretches and strengthening exercises into your day. Bring your device up to eye level instead of peering forward and dropping your head down to get a closer look. But most of all, stand tall and proud, lift yourself up and observe how that lifts your energy, how you can breathe better and your postural stance exudes confidence and openness. Go on, put the device down and walk tall.

This article is not intended to substitute for medical advice. For any concerns, consult your health professional.

Why developing as a teacher is so important

I'm sorry teachers but it's just not enough to teach a sweet or fancy sequence and lack the depth of what it is you are trying to do in this practice we call yoga, but I too often experience as a diluted, postulated performance. You can only get by for so long watching yogaglo and trying to emulate what you see.  You owe it to yourselves and your students to understand more and receive the deep statifaction that comes from sharing knowledge from what you fully embody.

Back when I did my training, I had already practiced with my teacher for 6 years solid and my training was done over a 2 year apprenticeship style.  While this was at time extremely intense and gruelling, it gave me a firm foundation that I have never stopped expanding upon.  My love of yoga and teaching is backed by 15 years working intimately with the human body as a massage therapist, I have looked, touched and learnt from literally thousands of bodies and am passionate about sharing this with fellow teachers and students.

"Mind blowing, very inspirational and supportive, it was challenging in a good way."


The yoga world has changed so much since then, in many ways for the positive, but now teachers can undergo teacher trainings with very little practice behind them and qualify in a exceedingly short amount of time!  While this is great in many ways, enabling the practice to become more and more accessible to the general public, it also makes the practicalities of being a yoga teacher more difficult. Yup I'm talking earning enough money for your sweet asana to survive, keeping yourself inspired, motivated and enthusiastic and really understanding in theory as well as in your own body the full practice of yoga.  

I find a large gap in teachers understanding of anatomy and being able to see imbalances in their students and effective help cultivate understanding and shift patterns in students.  This is what has prompted me to put together the Teacher Development program, to grow support and nurture emerging teachers.  We start from the foundation of the body in functional anatomy sessions, working from the feet to the cranium, focusing on common misalignments, injuries and reinforming patterns.  we work together in a supportive group to be able to 'see' what we learn in each others bodies.  We work on cultivating clear verbal, and hands on cues to help our students discover more and assist their practice.  Through out the course we work on personal development, finding our authentic voice, how to teach from our heart and look at the business of yoga and how we can have the greatest impact.

"I feel more confident in my teaching, I am defiantly more empowered to teach and assist more challenging poses and have a deeper understanding of what i am teaching. I have become more mindful and present in what i am saying" Karine Dion

The next teacher development is being held as an Immersion in Queenstown Nov 11-17th for more information click here


Announcing the first ever #kiwiyogini challenge on Instagram

Come and join the fun for the month of September and be in to win an epic prize pack worth over $1,000!

Each day you will be introduced to one of our awesome NZ yoga teachers and have an insight into their variation, philosophy or technique. This challenge is for every'body' so you don't have to be a yogi to start, grab your friends, sister, parents, husband or kids because it's all about community and connection.

To be in to win you must follow all of our sponsors and tag them each day along with the guest teacher.  Don't worry if you miss a day you can play catch up as long as you've completed the challenge by September 30th.


@nikkizr  @ecostorenz : elite gift packs for the winner and 2 runner ups  @greenleaforganics : $50 voucher to be used online or at GLO cafe  @wellnessretreatsnz : 'Vitality workshop' ticket for Oct 4th@halosmith2013 : 'Guardian' bracelet   @lululemonausnz : Yoga mat, mat bag and sweat towel@rapidreset : 2 month subscription to 'Hey Dot'  @nuzestnz : Good Green Stuff, Clean Lean Protein, Good Kids Stuff, shaker and bars@theyogaconnection : An introductory pass for you and a friend anywhere in NZ!  @emma.mildon : Framed and signed print 'people are dicks, love them anyway'

Ninja love warriors (and a random cat)


I got back from holiday and it was raining and cold so I knew that it was imperative to make an army of ninja love warriors to add a burst of light to our days.  

As soon as she opens her school lunch box boom boom peow the love ninjas will never let you down (same works with adults and a cup of tea)

To make your army you will need:
125g butter
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 egg yolk
1t baking soda
1t vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup flour of choice
3t ginger
1t cinnamon
1/2t clove

Melt butter, sugar and maple syrup over a low heat, mix in vanilla and egg yolk once off the heat. Gradually shift in dry ingredients until well mixed (I use my hands) then wrap and place in the freezer to chill for about 2 hours, this makes it much firmer and easier to work with.  Use enough flour to stop it sticking and roll out into about 1/2cm thick. Cut with your cookie cutters (i picked my ninjas up in the UK)

Bake for 6-10 min on baking paper lined tray at about 200 degrees until nice and brown and yummy smelling. Allow to cool on tray for a bit if you like them crispy. Then cool completely on a wire rack.  

When cool, decorate as you want, get creative, be wild!

Preparation for Bakasana aka Crow pose

I've lost count of the amount of times someone has come up to me after class and said something along the lines of "I just want to be able to do Crow pose! You know, I don't need to be a super yogi or anything, I just want to do Crow!" Maybe the sneaky crow doesn't seem quite so illusive as some of the other arm balances, but you can be sure that the crow will ignite some degree of fear "what if I fall on my face!"  

So lets start to enjoy the journey and enjoy the ride whether you fly or float you can guarantee that you will feel stronger and more connected with this preparation work.

Make sure you look after the wrists and give them some regular love once you start spending more time on your hands.  Wrist mobility will vary widely so don't push the wrists, always respect your boundaries and learn to work with what you've got.

Get that core fired up, drawing the naval towards the spine and move with your breath from boat pose to what I call 'sleeping crow' curling into a tiny little ball and pressing the hands up to the ceiling, as you inhale extend legs back out to hover (if your lower back is ok) repeat 6 times with your breath.

From table top curl inwards as you exhale drawing knee to elbow staying smooth and connected thought the motion. Then take it up to Downward facing dog with tiger curls. If you have the mobility in  your wrists, start to take the shoulders beyond the wrists gripping with the finger tips to balance.

Open shoulders and upper back with eagle pose, bowing forward over the legs after 5 breaths.  Learn to soften the groins with Marichyasana 1.

Now you are ready to set yourself up for Crow, start in a squat with hands shoulder width apart, bend the elbows and hug the arms in towards each other, start to take your weight forward and draw in to your core.  Push the floor away just like you did in sleeping crow, maybe tuck one foot up towards your buttocks at a time. Remember to get grippy with your fingertips, these are your handbrakes (ha ha ha)  Make sure you have fun, if you are really worried about face planting then pop some cushions out in front of you to take that fear away!