Hi, I’m Bettina. What I'm working on : Forget to slouch. Relaxing is freedom. Choose life.

Articles tagged “yoga”

Why change yoga styles?

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When I started out with yoga, I tried every kind of yoga out there: Iyengar, Ashtanga, hot yoga, Acroyoga, Jivamukti, whatever. I wanted to learn from every style and take from every style what worked for my body. The magpie style worked really well for a maximizer like me: I took the best from every teacher and left the rest.

Over two years ago, I stopped teaching yoga because I started learning a new style. I wanted to go in deep and so I left my magpie vinyasa yoga practice behind.

Some people ask me why.

How can I choose and commit to one yoga style?

I’ll answer the question using a parable from yoga history.

David Gordon White in his 1996 book The Alchemical Body tells the story of a siddhi (power) contest between Gorakh and Allama-Prabhu, two accomplished yogis:

Gorakh is very proud of his yogic accomplishments, bragging that no sword can cut through his body, polished to the hardness of a diamond through his craft. 

So when Allama Prabhu takes a sword to Gorakh, its blade shatters on his adamantine body.

When Gorakh raises his sword to Allama Prabhu in return, its blade passes through his body, which is wholly ethereal.

Allama Prabhu then chides Gorakh, saying that such bodily density is merely the mark of a density of illusion (103).

After this, Gorakh puts down his sword and asks Allama Prabhu to take him on as his student.

Is Kundalini Yoga Supported by Science?

Once upon a time one of my yoga teachers would end class with a 12 minute hold of this Kundalini yoga pose:

Kundalini Yoga Power Pose

It looks easy until you’re five minutes into it.

And then your arms are shaking and you can’t believe your arms have turned into two monster trucks or giant elephants.

I had no idea why he loved that pose so much, but he also had a penchant for 3-minute planks and other practically obscenely hard yoga practices.

But now I have a clue–this posture is a “power pose.”

Power Posing

In the video below social psychologist Amy Cuddy talks about “power posing” — how posing your body powerfully influences not only how others perceive you but also how you see yourself.

In short, Prof. Cuddy’s research suggests that physical poses can change the amount of testosterone and cortisol in your body. Simplistically translated, more testosterone means more confidence and more cortisol means more stress. “Power poses” increase testosterone and decrease cortisol and, thus, increase confidence and decrease stress.

Practically speaking, your body language changes your mood.

Her research shows that if you just assume a power pose for just two minutes, you can change your feelings about yourself.

If you wrap your arms around yourself, this protective gesture makes you seem weak.

If you expand your body in space by standing with your hands on hips, shoulders back to open the chest, chin up, and feet spread, like Wonder Woman, you can increase your confidence.

Another power pose?

Runner Crossing the Finish Line Power Pose

Prof. Cuddy showed a slide of a runner crossing the finish line–arms up in the air.

See how similar that is to the kundalini yoga pose above? Case closed.

These are power poses, made to make you feel confident and less stressed. Not a bad way to end a yoga class.

We yogis have always known that your body affects your mind, and now science proves that your body language can shape who you are.

Image credits from top to bottom: Pink Lotus, Ted.com, and Go Wow Team

Yoga Is Not … what you can do

Yeah by Jon Campbell


I’ve told my students that yoga is not what you look like.

It doesn’t matter if your tree pose is lopsided or your plank isn’t straight like a straw.

I always emphasized that yoga was how hard you tried, how you didn’t give up, how much you brought to the pose.


Now I don’t think yoga is about what you can or cannot do.

Yoga is a state of being.

I’ve known this, of course.

But somehow being able to do the advanced poses mattered still.


I recently found a list of my goals for 2012.

When I read through it, I was reminded that one of my intentions was to hold headstand for 10 minutes.

I still can’t hold headstand for that long.

Now it doesn’t matter to me anymore.


Why did I measure myself according to what I can do and for how long?

The same reason I have photos of beautiful yogis in perfect poses on my tumblr website.

Because yoga, for me at least, worked from the outside in.


I started with the physical, and now I’m working on the subtler parts.

I still have a barometer for my personal yoga practice.

But it’s no longer headstands, handstands, or anything else I can photograph.


What is yoga for you?



Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga


Sharing the Love

Berlin Urban Sketchers

Some good things I’ve found on the internet this past week:

♥ a video interview by Kara-Leah Grant of the Yoga Lunchbox with Mark Whitwell on the principles of yoga as taught by the yoga teacher of yoga teachers.

If you don’t have 45 minutes to watch the complete video, here are my notes on what Mark said:

+ Yoga is not for making money; it’s about caring for each other and communicating.

+ Yoga is direct intimacy with life itself, not spiritual or gymnastic idealism–that only makes people unsatisfied with their lives.

+ Trying to become something else is a denial of who I am right now.

+ Yoga is giving people direct access to the wonder of their present life: stop looking, start living–embrace your ordinary life.

+ Do yoga for the sheer pleasure of it–like sex, not as a duty.

+ Yoga is participation in what is already given.

+ There is only one illness–stress. Remove stress, and let life heal you.

♥ beautiful food photography, beautiful enough to frame as art

urban sketchers in Berlin and all over the world–drawing is to photography what slow food is to eating.

♥ this sad and funny and true song from Jeffrey Lewis, called “Don’t Let the Record Label Take You Out to Lunch.” Be sure to read the lyrics here.

Jeffrey Lewis- Don’t Let the Record Label take you out to lunch from Zack Wolk on Vimeo.


Hope that floats your boat straight into the weekend!

Feel free to send me your good links–and it doesn’t have to be related to yoga, just beautiful and brings a smile to my face.

Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga


Yogis Talk : David Wells about Thai Yoga (Reusi Dat Ton)

Thai Yoga aka Reusi Dat Ton Painting

Funny how you start stumbling down paths when you start studying yoga.

I stumbled upon David Wells’ information about Thai yoga aka Reusi Dat Ton and was curious about this other branch of yoga I had never heard about. Since one of my earliest Yogis Talk interviews with a yogi who had meditated in Thailand, I was curious to learn more about movement and meditation traditions there.

To find out:

  • how Thai yoga is different from Indian hatha yoga
  • what to do, according to Thai yoga, if you get a leg cramp (Edited on August 8, 2012 : oops! that should have been foot cramp) or have shoulder problems
  • how to mix different yoga styles to your benefit
  • how David persuaded a living reusi (rishi) to teach him traditional Thai Yoga

Listen to my interview with David below or download it from Soundcloud by clicking here.

David Wells of Wells Yoga

Want to learn more about Thai yoga?

Get in touch with David through his website Wells Yoga or take one of his yoga classes in California.

All photos from David Wells

Guest Yogini : Vonetta of Yoga at Moses, Portugal

Yoga Retreat at Moses in Portugal

Do you ever dream about traveling around Europe for a few months without a schedule or a plan? Either alone or with your husband and kids?

Do you ever dream about quitting a life that doesn’t fit you and finding through serendipity an abandoned stone farmhouse near a pond surrounded by wooded mountains?

Do you ever dream of teaching yoga, growing your own food, drinking wine from your own grapes, and raising your kids in nature?

Do you ever dream about making your life and home a healing project?

Most people have some sort of dream like these. But they say—someday I’ll get around to that.

Today meet Vonetta. She’s living those dreams right now in Portugal as the founder / resident healer at Moses.

Yoga Teacher Vonetta of Moses in Portugal

Bettina of Active Hands Yoga : Tell me a bit about your project in Portugal…

Vonetta : We run intimate meditative yoga retreats from our home in the forests and mountains of central Portugal, known locally here as “Vale de Moses.” Moses being an old Portuguese word for a place of many millstones as there are a dozen or so old water mills along the river that runs through this land. Moses is also, providently, the name of our 7-year-old golden retriever, without whom we never would have found this place while on a family adventure round Europe in 2007. Our retreats here include a mix of daily dynamic Hatha yoga classes with massage and acupuncture treatments.

Moses Cottage for Yoga in Portugal

I know you found the abandoned farm so it was a mix of luck and desire that you ended up there, but why Portugal?

Why is one of those questions that perhaps can be best described as futile; I prefer to think about what happened to bring us to Portugal and encouraged us to stay. Enchantment would be the best word to describe our introduction to this fine country. We are a family and in Portugal there is space, time and respect for the family as a unit. We set out on our European motorhome trip with all our combined skills and experiences from our life in London, yet looking for a new way to raise ourselves as a family.

When we found this place, it seemed like a fairy tale. Young people in the local town said “Good morning” to us and tried to speak English at every opportunity. Old people bright and sparkly at 70, from day one kissed us on the cheeks, hugged us and welcomed us like long lost children. The people in the middle invited us to their homes and offered their friendship and time and taught us quickly how to speak their beautiful language. Of course, there are problems everywhere, and Portugal, like all of Southern Europe at this time, is under considerable economic and environmental stress.

Yet, there is a joyful steadiness about Portugal. Grandchildren still return to the hills each autumn to pick their grapes to make wine and pick their precious olives for the tastiest of olive oils. The landscape is breathtaking, expansive and elevating. We drink the finest purest water, breathe the freshest most fragrant forest air and live in the truly clarifying Portuguese light. Seemed like a good place to call home.

 Yoga Teacher Vonetta of Moses in Portugal in Yoga Pose

If people want to start a yoga retreat / project like you, what should they do?

Practice, practice, practice and teach, teach anyone who wants to learn, teach when no one is looking and no one can hear you. Teach and practice, practice and teach. Live as if you are on retreat so you can feel what it is like to relax in your environment and then be prepared to work hard on every level of your being. Let your ideas run like a constant stream in your mind and listen to yourself. Get rid of all activity which is superfluous to your business idea and focus. Keep your eyes open to your students and their needs and your business will refine itself along with you. My yoga teacher once said to me, “Running a yoga retreat is a lot like running a family.” The most important words in that sentence are running and running. If there are any mums out there looking for a way to develop their practice as a business, you are well on the way to understand the needs of people who will come to you.

 Family Yoga with Yoga Teacher Vonetta of Moses in Portugal

What were biggest struggles / triumphs in setting up your project?

As an overview of triumph and struggle, I am very proud of my family–we suffered a great deal to restore these stone houses in our valley, knowing nothing about building or forestry.  When we arrived we didn’t even speak the language. Our learning curve has been steep and continuous. Joshua and Eloise [Vonetta’s children] have always been wonderful at cuddling Mum and Dad when it has all felt too much. They are our biggest triumphs.

However, there are daily struggles and triumphs; some of them can be pretty dramatic.  One day I was alone here and the water tubes burst open, while, as fate would have it, our phones stopped working, and I simply could not figure out how to turn the water off.  With water gushing down the hillside, I was running back and forth trying to find a solution to the problem. Let’s just say I was well, stressed. I decided to sit on a rock and recognize that I was all alone in the middle of the forest, and I was the only one who could solve this problem. Just as I sat watching the water burst out of the tubes, a lovely Portuguese electrician just happened to pass by our home. It seemed he had come to check our electric cables after a storm. He looked at me, clearly stunned by my soaked appearance: mud- and sweat-streaked face with eyes wide open. I in turn managed to say, “Got a phone?” and with that I called my husband who told me where the off switch was, and the problem was solved.  Daily miracles which encourage us to continue with this monumental task are the triumphs we appreciate most.

 Yoga Teacher Vonetta of Moses in Portugal working the Garden

You say that your passion is healing. How do you see your entire project as healing? How is yoga healing? Do you see yoga and TCM working together?

In terms of the project, we arrived to a place [the stone farmhouse] that had not seen any significant development or human life for over 40 years. No one had built in the traditional mode of stone and clay for more time than anyone could remember. We arrived and simply began moving something, anything–mostly rocks, of course, and after a while of piling up those rocks and mixing clay, it became clear to me that wherever human beings are engaged in natural activity that utilized their natural skills they are acting as healers.  So, I guess you could say we are healing this landscape, healing the memories of the old folks here who have been delighted with our new youthful energy and keen interest in the way they live in our desire to live here. This is the larger sense in which human energy can be vastly healing; it is natural for the human being to heal. It is our conditioned competitive thinking that causes such hurt and suffering. Healing is our natural innate instinct.

Vonetta of Moses Practicing Yoga

There are many technical reasons why yoga is good for your entire organism. Yoga is profoundly emotionally balancing. For many of us it is our emotions that invite illness on the mental and somatic level. For those of us working out life as we go, yoga heals you just because it makes you feel good! That is better than feeling emotionally, mentally or physically unable to enjoy your life and that, therefore, is all you need. You wake up in the morning early before the hectic nature of your day has turned itself on, enter your private quiet space set aside for the purpose–and it need only be a small space, place yourself on the most simple of surfaces–a mat. Maybe you are a little lethargic, but as you begin to tune into your breath, the body begins to awaken and move a little at first and then more and more. By the time you have finished practice, you feel great.

Healing is simply moving from a place of feeling worse to feeling better. Yoga does that. You simply feel better. It is also possible to have significant revelations about yourself and situations in your life after yoga practice, as the outer world is quieted and you move towards your inner experience.

Yoga Students in Cobra Pose

Many students begin just for the posture and practice. As they become more in love with this expression of meditative movement, they often seek to make more informed choices about their health, the food they eat, their lifestyle, their relationships. They begin to see more clearly.

The best thing about yoga is that your body already understands it, rather than learning it. It is simply a process of remembering what it was like to be a child rolling around on the floor exploring your fascinating human body and infinite mind, just because you have them, without judgment or speculation on the nature of your body or your breath or your mind–a spiritual practice that avoids judgment. That is powerful medicine.

I find that yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine make a very special combination. Without becoming too involved here, I have found that the pulse and tongue and Qi stimulus of people I have treated are considerably more balanced after a yoga practice. Our guests have reported profound feelings of relaxation and well-being after a yoga practice followed by acupuncture; furthermore, the results seem to last longer. The same is true of massage clients who practice; they have less muscular tension and are, therefore, a little more able to relax deeply. When they come for a massage, often half the work of relaxation has been completed by themselves through their own yoga practice. I suspect if clients practiced Qi Gong, for example, one might find the same.

There are many paths, but ultimately they all lead to the same place, a sense of well-being that remains irrespective of life’s tribulations. We are not meant to live forever, but we are meant to live.

 Yoga Retreat Lake in Moses Valley of Portugal

Since I’m a yoga teacher, I’m most interested in the yoga aspect. If yoga teachers want to bring their students to your retreat, what is the best way to do it? As in, what do you do and what do the yoga teachers do?

Well, that entirely depends on the yoga teacher. Hopefully, he or she will teach safe and enjoyable yoga perhaps once or twice a day. I also expect yoga teachers to be available at times to their students during the week. Yoga is so much more than simple posture practice and sometimes students need to speak to someone, so empathy for the human condition is important.

We have had teachers that also bring their knowledge of music, art and poetry; some with a sense of humor; and others who are more serious and philosophical in their approach. While other yoga teachers are here with their students, I am quite happy to simply offer massage and acupuncture treatments as and when required.

Yoga Retreat Terrace in Moses, Portugal

In your experience what needs to be in place for a good yoga retreat? 

Good food; kind, compassionate people to prepare a space for others and hold that space; and a joy for movement. A beginner’s heart and an open mind for every visitor to your retreat.

Basket of cherries and wine at Moses Yoga Retreat in Portugal

How do you find the yoga teachers / students / gardeners who come to your place?

So far people have found us largely through the internet via our website at www.yogaatmoses.com, Facebook.com/valedemoses or our blog at welovemoses.blogspot.com. They contact us, and we start a conversation.

What’s next for you? How can people get in touch with you if they want to teach yoga at your retreat?

I am presently refining my practice after four years of building work and enjoying being a Mum and running our retreats. We are still clearing our land from the huge restoration and landscaping process. At present, we are also remodeling the last of our stone cottages and designing a new yoga shala to be ready for 2013, so it is always “go, go, go” for us, but thankfully at a measured and yogic pace. For our 2013 season we will have accommodation for 10 students plus a teacher. If yoga teachers can contact us before October of 2012, we will be able to include them in our 2013 season which will run from April until October.

I find Vonetta’s story really inspiring–that another world, another kind of life IS possible.

And you? What’s your dream waiting to be made real? Let me know in the comments below.

Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga

Photos by Vonetta and Andrew Winter

My Gratitude for Yoga Teachers

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana - One-Legged King Pigeon Pose I


Even though I practice yoga mostly at home and strongly support my students to do so, we all need a yoga teacher.

We all tend to get used to a certain habit of doing things that may or may not serve our bodies.

Maybe this way of doing things once served us, but it no longer does, like an old sweater we’ve loved to death and is now coming apart at the seams, too small, and no longer represents our true style.

It takes an outside perspective to challenge us on our habits. For your yoga practice, this is your teacher–someone who watches you with no judgment and only wants you to try another, and perhaps better, way.

Watch the video below to learn what habit I’ve had for the last TWELVE years of my yoga practice that I recently learned to see with new eyes, thanks to a discerning yoga teacher.

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1. Bring your attention to all parts of your body after you practice. Notice where you may still feel tight or somehow stuck.

2. In your next yoga class, ask your yoga teacher to give you feedback about this part of your practice.

For example, if your wrists hurt, are your hands not aligned every time you come into downward-facing dog?

Your teachers’ outside perspective can help you unlearn habits that don’t serve you (anymore).

Let me know if you have any requests for a short yoga routine and/or questions about yoga or meditation!


Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga




Photo by David Martinez via Yoga Journal


Free Pop-Up Yoga Class at the San Francisco Airport Yoga Lounge

New York Times Yoga Airport


So I’ll be transiting through the San Francisco airport–SFO–for about 8 hours on Wednesday, July 11.

It’s about enough time to pop out to the city for a meal, but not much else.


SFO Airport Yoga Room


Thankfully, SFO recently opened a yoga room (see above), so I’ll be checking it out and doing my own practice there. It looks a bit corporate, but there seems to be free yoga mats.

If you join me in July, I’ll lead a free yoga class or private for you…provided that you follow the yoga room etiquette below. Get in touch with me to let me know.

SFO Airport Yoga Room Etiquette


How do you relax when you travel? Share your tips with me in the comments below.


Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga









Photos from top to bottom by Ben Garvin for the New York Times, YogaDork, Larah of the Pollen Path

How to Dress for Yoga Class during your Work Lunch Break

Fashion Yoga Pose


As comfortable as yoga pants can be, maybe you don’t want to wear them to work–at the very least, you don’t want your co-workers to be able to check out your yoga butt, right?

So if you go to yoga before, after, or in the middle of your work day, you’ve probably wondered how to integrate your yoga clothes and your work clothes.

Unless you work for a very young start-up or are an artist, where you can wear whatever you want.

Watch the video below to see how I integrate my yoga clothes into my work outfit.


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What do you wear to yoga class when you’ve got to look professional too?


Let me know if you have any requests for a short yoga routine and/or questions about yoga or meditation.


Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga




Photo by Vogue Italy

Artists, need some inspiration? Here are some yoga poses to enhance creativity


I’ve been meeting lots of artists and entrepreneurs lately, creative people who work with ideas all the time. So I made a video showing you how to get inspired with yoga.

Even if you’re a beginner or new to yoga, you can do these postures because the inversions are supported.


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ACTION STEP : Try at least one of these yoga poses the next time you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated. Nothing gets the brain moving faster than getting the blood going.

If you loved this video, you’re going to love my upcoming beginner yoga class starting on Monday, May 14. Go here for more information:  http://activehandsyoga.com/classes/6-week-beginner-yoga-class-series/

Let me know if you have any requests for a short yoga routine and/or questions about yoga or meditation!


Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga