Over the past 12 months, yoga has started to take over my life a little: in a good way I must stress. From being an occasional yoga class attendee to reading yoga books, teaching yoga classes and carrying out my own self-practice, my interest in this ancient philosophical science has become stronger with time.
I am not sure exactly when yoga came into my life but I feel like it has always been there. I knew I liked and identified with yoga but I don’t know when I first thought this, I can’t even remember my first yoga class or my first teacher. I just know that this love of yoga has always been there; like an undeveloped picture waiting to be processed.
In the UK we are usually introduced to yoga as another exercise class offered at the gym or leisure centre, so in all likelihood this is where I tried my first class. I am someone who was never into sports as a child. I cringe and feel sorry for the younger me who was completely put-off any form of exercise due to its competitive nature rather than focusing on health, exercise and well-being. And this is why I love yoga – it is not simply an exercise class, another sport or a health fad or trend that will come and go. It is body, it is mind and it is overall control of the self – it is a way of life.
So What is Yoga? That is the question….
Yoga is a ‘science of the mind’ and philosophical system that originated in India thousands of years ago. Yoga, stemming from the Sanskrit work ‘yuj’ to yoke or join, is often interpreted to mean just this – to join or yoke or a union. Usually assumed to be the union of the mind, the body and the breath. Personally I see yoga as an entire way of life and set of moral, ethical and spiritual guidelines that is all encompassing. Yoga is not simply an exercise class but a way to help you to live your life in a more fulfilling and rewarding manner that will both enrich your own life but also that of those around you. The physical poses are important to create a healthy body but so are the moral codes and other elements such as breathing and meditation. Each person will find yoga at a different stage in their life and follow their own journey of discoveries and enrichment. I personally found yoga from two separate directions – from the direction of the physical asanas to repair a tired and injured body but also from the angle of stress-reduction and finding more meaning in my busy life.
So what do you actually do in a yoga class then?
A typical yoga class will last between 60-90 minutes and you will find us yoga teachers in gyms, hot yoga studios, leisure centres, dance studios, sports halls, village halls and community centres – all we need is an empty space and a few yoga mats! Yoga is very accessible in that you really don’t need much equipment (or even shoes!) to give it a go – just a yoga mat, a bottle of water and you are off (and perhaps a teacher or good DVD to start with too)!
The teacher will usually begin by setting the intention for the session, welcoming students and focusing on establishing correct breathing. This can be as simple as a sentence or two to calm the mind, to a series of exercises designed to control, regulate and elongate breathing patterns (pranayama). Then the teacher will start moving the class through a series of postures (asanas) by demonstrating or talking students through it. The postures often start with a flowing sequence called Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) that warms the body up and moves the spine through its natural series of curves. Then the asanas include standing postures, balances, seated postures that work on areas such opening the hips or lengthening the hamstrings as well as sometimes inversions (basically, we turn ourselves upside down). A yoga class varies hugely from teacher to teacher and from school to school. Some string together flowing patterns of postures, some are more static focusing on correct alignment and some are in a heated room between 30-40º (hot yoga). I personally teach a mixture of dynamic Hatha yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Sivananda yoga, with a touch of fitness yoga thrown in for good luck. Rather than me try to explain what all these types of yoga are, and there are many, I would recommend trying out few different teachers and classes until you find a style that you personally like and identify with.
And why should you join me in bringing a little yoga into your life?
Well, where do I start? Do you want to de-stress, relax and become more energised? Do you want to become stronger, more flexible and toned? Yoga brings a massive wealth of benefits to the physical body. Even when practiced just once per week people see great benefits in their overall heath and fitness, let alone the benefits to their overall well-being.
People often say “oh, I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough!” Mmmm, rubbish – the point of yoga is to develop your flexibility and progressively improve your body. If we were all super-flexible to start with, there would be no point to it, (waaaay to easy) and nowhere to improve yourself.
Yoga is and should be accessible to everyone; young old, male, female and for all body types. I’m not saying that it will be easy for all and each person will have their own personal battles to work through within their practice. A posture you may find easy, I may well struggle with (trust me I have my nemesis pose!). But this is half the fun – becoming self-aware. Aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your body, aware of what you need to work on and aware of the way your mind works to adapt and improve.
Yoga also complements other sports and exercise brilliantly. It can help to strengthen areas that may be weak from overuse or injury, can improve your stamina and mental toughness as well as stretch out achy muscles. However sometimes it just gives you that time away from a stressful work schedule or busy family life; that all-important ‘me-time’.
As you can see, I am happy to rave fanatic to anyone who will listen to me about the health benefits of yoga for both the mind, body and the spirit and I am lucky to have found a multitude of friends and relatives that have actually listened to me and also adore yoga and the benefits it brings to their life.
So why not give it a try? Take a look at some of my regular classes, which are all open to beginners as well as experience yogi’s. I teach regular weekly drop-in classes in Woking as well as specialist workshops that will help explain a certain topic in a little more detail. Private classes, beginner’s courses and company/corporate lessons are all available on request too.
See you on the yoga mat soon….