Alopecia Awareness Month

September is Alopecia Awareness month. Sue has been a regular attendee at our yoga classes over the years. She has written a moving personal reflection for us on her journey through alopecia. We hope that in sharing this it will help to raise awareness of alopecia and prove helpful. I’ll hand you over to Sue!

My personal journey with alopecia

It’s autumn, it’s 2020 and it’s been a year which, so far, has been pretty pants. All of us having to adapt to the changes brought about by a global pandemic.

I’ve never written anything like this before and I suppose not only find it challenging but also a little uncomfortable. Observing ourselves and sharing thoughts doesn’t always come easily. Whenever in the past I have challenged myself to experience new things I might normally avoid it has often proved ultimately to be a rewarding experience. …..so here goes!

Strange to think that September is already here. This month for me, brings another birthday, (number fifty eight if we’re counting!!). Also a time of reflection and contemplation.

I wouldn’t admit to welcoming the shift this month brings. With predictable regularity it reminds me that I do not possess the ability to postpone the arrival of darker mornings. Nor try as I might, find a way of hanging onto summer, my favourite season.

My name is Sue. I’m mum to two grown boys, a nurse, I’ve developed a love of yoga……..and I have no hair.

Alopecia Awareness Month

September is also Alopecia awareness month. This one marks the eleventh since my body turned on itself and altered my ability to grow hair. Dramatically altering my appearance.

Hair loss for anyone can be a tricky thing to deal with. I was first alerted to mine when pregnant with my first son. A small, perfectly round, penny size bald patch appeared on the back of my head. Reassured by nursing colleagues it was pregnancy related and would regrow I ignored it and it did, but as one patch grew back another appeared.

By the time I delivered my second son, fourteen months after his brother, large hairless patches occupied much of the back of my head.

Alopecia diagnosis

A swift referral to dermatology followed (something I still struggle with as my alopecia is an autoimmune and not a dermatological condition) and I was diagnosed with alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune condition which sees a specific type of T cell in the body cluster around and attack the hair follicles, preventing them from producing more hair.

At the initial appointment I was handed a diagnosis and also, with little compassion, informed by the first specialist I encountered, that there was no cure for what I had, that it was likely I would lose all my hair, and that should this be the case I’d be entitled to vouchers for NHS wigs which I could obtain from the hospitals appliance department. Great!!!

Reaction to the Alopecia diagnosis

What followed is, I believe,  not uncommon. A period of great sadness and almost mourning. I was mercifully followed up by a wonderfully kind, now retired dermatologist who supported my angry and desperate attempts to prove both medicine and my body wrong.

This is a journey, as a nurse, I see many travel and who I now  try to support when they face  a difficult to accept diagnosis.

Mine was an anxiety filled minefield punctuated by a series of unpleasant therapies and medications which would see my immune system horribly suppressed. By the time I’d exhausted the list and also myself, I was finally at a point where, with great sadness and reluctance, I accepted that the medical research was correct and that there is no cure for alopecia.

Reaching a place of acceptance

Many years followed during which I disguised my hair loss but with it’s rapid acceleration in 2009 things quickly reached the point of no return. It was that September that my youngest son shaved the final wisps of hair away.

I can say with complete honesty that this was a truly liberating experience. Having been at the mercy of unpredictable, widespread and very patchy hair loss, I was finally back in control of my appearance and not sitting, mourning the loss of more precious locks on a daily basis.

Not quite done with me alopecia did manage to kick my backside one final time that year as it robbed me of my eyebrows and  lashes. I was incredibly saddened by this final insult and felt alopecia had stolen my face. All the landmarks which give us shape and form were gone. I felt as though my features had been rubbed out.

Incredible experiences and long lasting friendships

Now all this might sound a bit doom and gloom but this is not the case. Alopecia has been an intrinsic part of my journey. It’s influenced my thoughts and decision making and rewarded me with incredible experiences and long lasting friendships.

I knew from the get go that wigs and I were never going to be friends. I’m more of a sunscreen in the summer, bobble hat in the winter type of girl. There are beautiful wigs and head coverings out there for those who feel happier covering their hair loss. Psychologically, these are very necessary in allowing some people to function happily and get on with their lives. I tried very briefly but knew I just couldn’t do wigs. It was so much comfier wearing waterproof eyeliner, big earrings and a smile.

Glastonbury festival 2010 was one of the hottest on record. Would I have traded my tanned little bald head for hair as I stood close to the pyramid stage….absolutely not!! There are some benefits having Alopecia!!

Alopecia UK

Alopecia UK is an organisation which has been an incredible support to me throughout. I remain eternally grateful to them as a charity for their advice, hair loss survival tips and friendship.

In 2012 Alopecia UK were approached by London based photographer Daniel Regan who hoped through his work, to help support people affected by alopecia.

I decided to respond to his request asking people with alopecia to volunteer and be photographed. One saturday morning I drove to the capitol, devoid of any makeup and let a stranger capture on film what he saw.

Uncovered Exhibition

https://www.danielregan.photography/

To this day I struggle to explain how or why the image he created was to have such a positive and powerful impact on my wellbeing. I think I can speak for others who were also photographed. As part of an exhibition entitled “Uncovered” my picture hung with theirs in Frameless Gallery, London where they were viewed by the public.

It was odd but strangely reassuring to watch members of the public looking closely at my face and reacting positively to much of what I’d perceived as being very flawed. Many of us who’s faces hung out together in the gallery then, still keep in touch now.

As for Daniel Regan, he remains a true friend and someone I love dearly. I’m now referred to affectionately as his “liverpool mamma”, a title I feel very privileged to own.

Sue with photographer Daniel Regan

Yoga and sitting for a photographic portrait

I try hard these days not to do the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve thing but I do reflect on life’s experiences. In writing this, I’ve considered what might have been the elements involved in sitting for a photograph taken by a then stranger, which had, and continues to have, such a positive influence on my life. I didn’t practice yoga then but do now. I’m able to reflect and question if some components of yoga practice where unknowingly at play.

Could it have been the non possessiveness associated with surrendering my time and my face, allowing and encouraging someone else to use it to help them with their journey? A comparison in yoga practice might be “Aparigraha” which is a letting go of what is not needed or not serving you.

As the shutter clicked and Daniel worked I remember consciously slowing my breath. Smoothing my brow, dropping my shoulders. Closing my eyes and focusing on projecting outwardly the growing sense of peace and contentment I was inwardly feeling. Comparing this with my yoga practice today, I realise what I was doing. I was directing my awareness (mindful meditation) and focusing on my breath (pranayama).

Photo-asana

Through yoga teachings we become aware that energy within us travels via channels referred to as nadis. As with all channels, any blockage will interrupt the smooth flow of whatever is transported within it. Was it that the act of sitting, really breathing and setting a mindful focus or intention which helped release something I’d been unconsciously storing?

The final component involved in sitting for a photographer involves altering the body’s shape or posture and holding this for a period long enough to allow a visual artist to work. In Sanskrit the term for posture or pose would be asana.

Reflecting on that pivotal moment and all the components contained therein which produced such an amazing, long lasting, totally natural “high” with feelings of letting go, acceptance and calm, maybe the stage was set that day for me to seek other ways to introduce more of that “feel good” stuff into my every day.

Reflecting from 2020

So here I stand now. I have, in reaching 2020 had to occasionally let go of people who are not good for me but on the flip side, have also made many super and lasting friendships. I’ve continued to nurse because I love it but have modified and adapted my practice to enable me to nurse in ways which bring more happiness and meaning to my life.

There have been such memorable, irreplaceable, happy family times. A couple of parachute jumps, a love of stand up paddle boarding.  And some cracking travel opportunities when I’ve been wowed by some of the natural spectacles our beautiful planet offers.

As we all know though, life’s not always pretty or kind. Life does seem to have the knack of throwing the odd spanner in the works when we least expect it.

Finding Yoga

A couple of years ago that’s sort of where my life was. Newly divorced, new to Heswall, a little tubby (still am!!)  and not remotely fit or flexible I decided to join a couple of yoga classes. My thinking was that yoga would serve as somewhere, unlike some swanky gym, where a slightly portly, bald, female singleton could go to hide. And maybe in the process shed a few pounds.

I did a bit of online research which led me to two blokes (three if we count Archie), who, in the Wirral yoga universe, are known as The Yogasmiths. These two, Steve and Paul, together with many other gifted yogis, have patiently and with kindness, encouraged and supported the development of my yoga practice.

Sharing is caring

Paul approached me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I’d be prepared to write a blog. A little about myself and my journey. They’d recognised that from time to time they meet some people who might be struggling with some image altering problems. By sharing some of my experience, particularly during alopecia awareness month, hopefully some of my words may offer something to someone who might not be having such a great time.

We all have differences. Some are more noticeable than others. Many, including several forms of hair loss are not as permanent, obvious or long lasting as mine. Coping with a problem is often what prompts someone to access support networks and meet with others. In my case it was through that initial contact with Alopecia UK that I followed a path which led me to Daniel Regan and the magical, natural high my body woke up to when sitting in a photographic studio in London…the very same feelings which yoga practice now brings.

Now I’m not about to claim that alopecia dictates my day to day (I actually often forget I have no hair), or that a photograph taken in 2012 possesses strange, magical properties. I can’t preach that the different types of yoga I love to practice now hold the answers to anything but what I can say, with absolute certainty is that I believe the three to be inextricably linked.

Follow your heart

At points during the COVID-19 lockdown I jumped at the opportunity to be able to access on line yoga classes taught by highly respected yogis. A couple of these were with David Sye. David is a yoga teacher, musician, humanitarian and someone who believes yoga should be a “spontaneous, unapologetic and sexy celebration of life”. Interviewed in 2015 he said that if we look at the greats, all these artists, scientists, creatives have been moved by their hearts and not their brain. It’s never about the brain. He speaks about following your feelings and trusting that if you do, life will support you. David says that in making himself happy this makes the people around him happy too. This is true.

I suppose what I’m trying (badly) to articulate is, that when I follow my heart, my gut instinct and, quoting David Sye again “pay big attention to the small things and small attention to the big things” something quite wonderful will sometimes happen.

The yoga effect

When I practice yoga nothing can touch me. Not work, not social media and nobody can demand my attention or distract me. In those moments I’m back in 2012 again. I’m in a place where I dedicate my practice/set my intention. Let go of what isn’t needed, focus on the breath and accept being me. Knowing that all I need at that time is within me.

yoga and alopecia

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, a teacher of kundalini yoga (something I’ve yet to experience) wisely said “yoga is not about self importance, it’s about self acceptance”.

If anyone in the Yogasmiths fold is struggling to cope with hair loss and feels I might be able to help in finding organisations or individuals who could offer advice and support, let me know. I’d be happy to try.

Photo credit – Daniel Regan (black and white photograph)  www.danielregan.photography/alopecia/

Resources

Alopecia UK – www.alopecia.org.uk

Changing Faces – www.changingfaces.org.uk

Check out our other blogs here:

Blog

You can find details of our online yoga classes here:

Shop

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Be Here Now by Ram Dass – Book Review

I was prompted to purchase Be Here Now by Ram Dass after reading it had inspired David Williams. As a result of enjoying David’s book, I felt compelled to purchase a copy and read it myself. You can read my review of David Williams memoir by following this link: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/28/my-search-for-yoga-by-david-williams-book-review/

Dr Richard Alpert aka Baba Ram Dass

I was aware of Ram Dass and that he had been part of the 1960’s counter culture and that he was linked to LSD. However, I did not know a great deal about him.

https://www.ramdass.org/consciousness-psychedelics/

The book is set out in 4 parts. Journey, from bindu to Ojas, cookbook for a sacred life and painted cakes.

The first part is about Dr Richard Alpert PhD and his transformation into Baba Ram Dass. Dr Alpert was at the height of his career and was living the idealised American dream. He had sports cars, his own aeroplane and was a prominent Harvard psychologist. Around this time he mentions he was drinking which masked his desire to find a deeper meaning in his life. It is clear that he felt that there was more to life than the material success he had achieved.

Whilst at Harvard, in 1961, he began to explore different states of human consciousness. Initially this was through the use of various psychedelic mind altering drugs. As a result of his experimentation with drugs he was sacked from Harvard University in 1963. The exploration of different levels of consciousness through the use of drugs continued. Ultimately this led him to Eastern philosophy and he made a life changing trip to India in 1968.

My own experience

The first part of this book resonated with me. Before becoming a full time Yoga teacher I worked in middle management in the civil service. I had a job that paid me well, we had a nice 3 bedroom semi detached house in West Kirby. However, the job that I was working in made me feel empty and unsatisfied. At some times it made me feel even worse than that, as if I was slowly dying inside. A period of work related anxiety was a mental catalyst to start thinking about changing my life.

I realised that I either needed to find ways to cope with the situation and the job I had or that I needed to make some changes. As a result I decided to make a change. The thing that was tying me to my job was the financial commitment of a mortgage. I received a letter from our mortgage company telling me that I would be 68 years old when we paid off our mortgage. This was a moment of awakening for me! The thought of working in the same job till I was 68 was not something I was prepared to contemplate. There had to be more to life than this. Working in a job that provided me with zero satisfaction or nourishment felt wrong.

What helped me cope became my vocation

I had been using Yoga for many years to help me cope mentally and physically with my job. So I felt compelled to become a yoga teacher to help others. Deciding to leave my job and career was still a difficult decision to make. It was interesting to observe the peer pressure from others that I worked with. Some colleagues could not comprehend that I wanted to leave, telling me “you are walking away from a good career.” Whereas other colleagues were envious and wished they could leave too!

In a nutshell, we downsized to a small flat that was more affordable and I applied for redundancy from work. This felt like such a massive relief. I vividly recall walking around the Marine Lake in West Kirby smiling and feeling quite elated and free.

Part 2 – From Bindu to Ojas

Part two of the book is a haphazard whistle-stop tour through spiritual themes from across the smorgasbord. It is interspersed with pictures and drawings. Because the book is laid out in the form of pictures and artistically placed text, the reader needs to really concentrate to actually read it. As a result you read it slightly more slowly and search out where the sentence flows. This causes the reader to savour the quotes and to pause.

This part of the book is a really rich source of some fantastic inspirational quotes and passages. Some of the ones that really jumped out and spoke to me were the following;

“When you have quieted your mind enough and transcended your ego enough you can hear how it reall is. So: when you are with a candleflame you are the candleflame and when you are with another being’s mind you are the other being’s mind. When there is a task to do you are the task. The mindless quality of total involvement that comes only when the ego is quiet and there is no attachment.”

“My thinking mind is a perfect servant and a lousy master”

“Just the process of calming, centering, centering, calming extricating myself from the drama.”

The third part of the book is a guide to how you can realise spiritual changes for your self. It covers a wide range of things from yoga postures to how much sleep you need.

The final part of the book is a rather vast list of books to find out more! This is a great resource. It provides a lifetimes worth of books to dive into.

Summary

This is a great book. I really enjoyed reading it. It is inspiring and wacky. The front cover which is a geometric mandala type picture, encapsulates the idea of interconnectedness. This is what this book is really about, connection. Connection to the true self.

The message is Be Here Now. Be here free from ego, from from thought, free from ideas about your self, free of your emotions. Mindfulness. Baba Ram Dass details how you can start to make changes to achieve this.

Be Here Now by Ram Dass is an authoritative Western explanation of Eastern philosophy. As a result it acts as a guide and manual for those wishing to find deeper meaning to their life. The eternal and simple message of Be Here Now perfectly sums up the crux of the practice.

You can purchase a copy of Be Here Now by Ram Dass from Blackwell’s which is a more ethical choice than Amazon;

https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Be-Here-Now-by-Ram-Dass-author/9780517543054

Check out our other book reviews here;

https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

Resources;

https://www.ramdass.org/

https://becomingnobody.com/

https://bhagavandas.com/

Here is a trailer for a short film on Netflix about Ram Dass towards the end of his life;

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Calm Soles Holistic Therapy – West Kirby

Jeanette is a regular member of our Yoga Classes and has started her own business called Calm Soles Holistic Therapy. Jeanette writes a guest blog for us discussing the theory behind reflexology and reflects on starting a business in the current climate.

Starting a business in the Time Of Covid (ToC)

So, I’ve been told that I must be mad trying to start a new business in the time of Covid!  However, I’ve always been a firm believer in the fact that if it’s right, it’s right.  I bought my first property when interest rates were at a ridiculously high level in the early 90’s; I travelled solo to India when all my friends told me I was mad and would hate it: (Reader, I fell in love with the country; cried when I had to leave it…). Sometimes you have to do something – even if the “odds” are against it. 

As for the ToC – well – what a great time to start to take responsibility for our health; I’m probably preaching to the converted here – we all love yoga, we know what a difference it makes to our health & wellbeing;  some of us even meditate regularly which is fantastic for our mental health too.  I should add that when I state ‘take responsibility for our health’ I am not for one minute saying that if we don’t we’ll become ill with Covid!

What is Reflexology?

If you’ve never had Reflexology before, let me tell you a little bit about it & how a treatment will work:

It is believed that the feet (and hands & face & ears) contain points that are reflected within the main body – (a microcosm of the macrocosm if you like )these are called reflex points.  This is beautifully illustrated in pregnancy where the uterus point becomes swollen in line with the growing baby!  Or where the bladder reflex can be quite swollen when it is full.

Calm Soles Holistic Therapy

So when you rub your painful feet after a long day, or walk on the beach over rough sand you are giving yourself a good massage via the soles of your feet.  Our feet are, after all, our very foundation – they have to put up with a lot!

A deep sense of relaxation

As most of us know, it is when we rest at night that the body does most of its repair work.  We are in our most relaxed state so systems can work around the body without interruption from digestion, stress, exercise and everything else it experiences during the day.  When receiving a treatment, most clients find it incredibly relaxing and drift off sometimes into a really quite deep sleep, even though they are aware of what is going on around them. 

The beauty of Reflexology is that you are in a chair, fully clothed with only your feet uncovered – so there really is the minimum of fuss during the session.  Having taken a comprehensive history from you of any past or current ailments (there are few contra-indications),  I work around the various systems really just aiding re-balancing & aiding your body to let go of any stress you may be experiencing.  That’s really it in a nutshell – there are a few different forms of Reflexology that I am trained in – there are specific routines to help with hormone imbalances; musculoskeletal points that can help with whiplash, sciatica etc, plantar fasciitis, stress, maternity, fertility & palliative. The research into how Reflexology can help is impressive. 

Calm Soles Holistic Therapy September 2020 Special offer

Back to the here & now and I am very excited to announce that as of Tuesday September 1 I will be offering 1/2 price Reflexology treatments – £20 – for the entire month.  Treatments last between 45-50 mins. (Under current Covid restrictions my professional association does not recommend spending more than 60 mins in a treatment room ).  So if you’ve never tried Reflexology before, now is a good time! 

I will be working from the treatment room at the back of Rooney Ponton hairdressers in Banks Road.  Have a look at my website: www.calmsoles.com for further information, how to book, and exact location details.

I look forward to welcoming you. 

Oh & don’t worry I am fully insured, affiliated with professional associations & Covid-19 compliant!

Jeanette

Thanks Jeanette. Very interesting to read up on the theory behind Reflexology. Good Luck with your new venture!  Paul & Steve x

You can check out other blogs we have written here:

https://yogasmiths.org/blog/

 

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Best Vegan Banana Bread

Check out our Vegan Banana Bread Recipe. This recipe is oil free and can easily be tweaked to make it suitable for both gluten free and paleo diets. To make it gluten free, just use gluten free flour!

Do you ever find yourself throwing away bananas that have gone too brown? Don’t waste them! This is the perfect tasty way to use them up!

Ingredients for the Best Vegan Banana Bread

  • 4 – 5 Ripe bananas – ones that have got speckles on them and are going brown
  • 1 Cup of Sugar (I used a mix of demerara sugar and white sugar but you can use any)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of Vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • 2 cups of flour (I used one cup of wholemeal bread flour and one cup of tapioca flour because that was what I had in the cupboard. You can use all gluten free flour and flour to suit paleo diets)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 handful of raisins
  • 1 handful of crushed walnuts
  • Jam optional for topping
  • Desiccated coconut optional for topping
vegan banana bread recipe
All of the ingredients except for Jam and Coconut which is optional

Method

Start be greasing a small loaf tin. Preheat the fan oven to 180 degrees c. (Adjust temperature for different types of oven)

Place the bananas, sugar, vanilla essence in a bowl. Use a stick blender to blitz it all until smooth. Add in a 1/3 of a cup of water and blitz again.

In a different bowl, place the 2 cups of flour, sprinkle the 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in to the flour, sprinkle the 1 teaspoon of baking powder into the flour and also sprinkle in the 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Mix this all together using a hand whisk until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and give it a stir. Do not over stir, just until all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated.

Add in a handful of raisins and an optional handful of walnuts. Sometimes I put the walnuts in the mix and sometimes crumbled on top. Stir them in to the wet mix.

Get your loaf tin ready and pour the mixture into it. You can sprinkle the crushed walnuts onto the top of the loaf if you haven’t put them in the mix itself.

Place the loaf tin in the centre of the oven at 180 degrees c and cook for 1 hour.

The finished article – the best vegan banana bread

After an hour take the loaf tin out of the oven, turn the banana bread out of the tin and allow to cool on a rack or plate. I can’t resist having an end slice whilst it is still hot and crisp. Enjoy the Best Vegan Banana Bread!

You can spread the top with strawberry jam or your favourite flavour jam and sprinkle with desiccated coconut. We think it looks lovely with the jam and coconut on and it adds a lovely extra bit of flavour. Let us know what you think, send us your pics of your banana breads and share the recipe with friends! Thanks!

The Best Vegan Banana Bread

Other resources

Check out our other vegan recipes here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/vegan-recipes/

Check out the website of the Vegan Society if you are interested in veganism: https://www.vegansociety.com/

For details on the benefits of a vegan diet, check out Mic the Vegan’s YouTube, he presents lots of evidence based facts around veganism: https://www.youtube.com/micthevegan

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International Day of Yoga 2020

Today is the sixth International Day of Yoga, 21 June 2020!

The idea of international Day of Yoga was first proposed by the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi during his speech at the UNGA, on 27 September 2014. 

He beautifully described Yoga in his speech as follows;

Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day. NARENDRA MODI  UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY

https://www.un.org/en/observances/yoga-day
International Day of Yoga 2020

So wherever you are, you can do some Yoga today! Honouring our practice of Yoga and all of the teachers that brought it to us and continue to.

Remember that your Yoga practice is personal to you and can be anything from the compassion you show to someone, to taking a few deep Yogic breaths during your day to completing the full Ashtanga Primary Series.

Theme of International Day of Yoga 2020

The theme for International Day of Yoga 2020 is Yoga for Health – Yoga at Home

While the social distancing measures adopted by countries to fight the COVID-19 pandemic have shut down yoga studios and other communal spaces, yoga practitioners have turned to home practice and online yoga resources. Yoga is a powerful tool to deal with the stress of uncertaintly and isolation, as well as to maintain physical well-being. 

https://www.un.org/en/observances/yoga-day

We celebrated International Day of Yoga 2020 this morning at our Sunday Yin Yoga class. As a result of the current climate, we practice Yoga at home. You can continue with your practice and feel connected to others by practicing at home.

Yoga for Health is a wonderful theme for this year. We created a page on our website to highlight the great health benefits that yoga has. This page highlights the great work carried out by Dr Timothy McCall. He has collated a large number of health studies around the benefits of yoga. Currently there are 117 conditions listed that Yoga has been proven to benefit. Check out the page here, where you can read about it or download a copy: https://yogasmiths.org/health-conditions-helped-by-yoga/

Let us all spend a moment for ourselves today, on International Day of Yoga. Connect with our breath. Anchor ourselves in the moment through our breath. As a result you can allow yourself to witness and experience the union (Yoke) of breath, body and mind.

Be mindful, be Yoga.

Namaste

Paul & Steve

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