At the beginning of this year, while considering my goals for 2020, I decided that I might like to have a go at yoga. Although I have regularly exercised since I was 20, I have always been drawn to cardio fitness primarily, as I assumed that this would keep my weight in check and be the most beneficial for long term health. And, with a full time job and lots of other responsibilities, I don’t have lots of time for multiple types of fitness/classes.
However, although I am still doing cardio, my knees and hips are feeling the strain of over 30 years of aerobics, and I fancied something different, something with gentle stretching movements to build up my core strength, and some calming meditation practice. And, I could not help but be drawn to some of the stunning, elegant and graceful poses promoted by experienced yogis.
“Namaste” is used for for greeting and leave taking in Yoga. Usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called Añjali Mudrā or Pranamasana. In Hinduism, it means “I bow to the divine in you.”
Yoga has been around for thousands of years. The origins seem to date back to pre-Vedic Indian tradition, probably in the Indus Valley Civilisation of around 5,000 years ago. Because it is so old, and much of it is mired in mystery, yogas history is obscure and uncertain. It is believed that some of the earliest teachings were inscribed on palm leaves which were unsurprisingly damaged and lost. Other teaching methods, such as orally handing down methods of practice and origin, have also faded in the mists of time.
Yoga as we know it today, has only been around for the last hundred years or so, and is largely credited to Indian yoga teacher, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a Ayurvedic healer and scholar. Often referred to as “the father of modern yoga,” Krishnamacharya is regarded as the most influential yoga teacher of the last century. Although he never crossed an ocean, his legacy has spread across the world. Today, there are a bewildering number of styles of yoga for any newbie considering a class, but they all have a link back to Krishnamacharya.
Anusara Yoga is a rigorous practice for both body and mind, every movement being linked to the breath.
Ashtanga also a rigorous practice, but unlike Anusara yoga, it involves the practice of the same poses in exactly the same order each time. It’s hot and sweaty!
Bikram is also a sweat inducing practice, more so as classes are held in heated studios!
Hot Yoga is very similar to Bikram, but with slight deviations. Does what it says on the tin!
Hatha Yoga is probably the most common class. Most classes taught in the West are Hatha. It follows an introduction to the most basic poses. It’s not about sweating, so much as relaxation, stretching and toning.
Iyengar Yoga concentrates on finding the proper alignment to a pose. ‘Props’ may be used (blocks straps, chairs, etc.) in order to get that perfect definition.
Restorative Yoga, also known as Yin yoga is all about relaxation and de stressing. Props are used to allow easy manoeuvre into poses for maximum calm, rested feelings.
Vinyasa Yoga involves fluid movement-intensive poses. Music may be played. No two classes are the same and the practice is as challenging as it is unpredictable.
If, like me, you are beginner, and slightly overwhelmed by the choice on offer, I suggest you start by having a look at YouTube where you can find hundreds of yoga practice classes, ranging in style, difficulty and length. Adriene Mishler’s Yoga With Adriene is a very good place to start, and she offers some great beginners classes.
Yoga can feel intimidating, particularly for beginners in a live class, especially if you are surrounded by super flexible bodies contorted into aspirational Instagram posts, or worse, classes where over enthusiastic teachers push students uncomfortably deep into poses. Adrienne”s online classes are the polar opposite. Dubbed “The People’s Yogi”, Adriene says she wants to “get people closer to experiencing pure love and acceptance for themselves.” A philosophy which is very close to my own heart. And, practising yoga in the comfort of your own living room has many advantages, not least not worrying about looking an idiot when you try, (and fail) to do Tree Pose without losing your balance!
“I used to make margarita jokes, just to get people to see that yoga is not only for people who sit in lotus all day and sip yogi tea.” Adriene Mishler – Yoga With Adriene
Although I have not been doing yoga for very long, I am really feeling the benefits and am sure that I have already started to build up a core strength I was clearly lacking before. I relish the challenge of working towards the more difficult poses, but more importantly, I am enjoying the feelings of calm and serenity that come with finishing a practice.
Challenge wise, I am working on a handstand! It’s hard on the arms and shoulders (where I don’t have a lot of strength), and it’s scary! The straighter I get the more frightening it is, but the lovely thing about yoga is the importance of taking everything at your own pace. If it takes me 10 weeks, 10 months or 10 years to find that vertical handstand, (that isn’t against a wall), then that is OK!
Of course, it is necessary to be careful and make sure you don’t leap into a pose that will result in your hurting or injuring yourself. I did the same beginners class with Adriene over and over in the first few days of my yoga journey, just to try and understand the correct position and significance of the poses …and kept her sage advice in the back of my mind; “find what feels good.”
Practising at home, I love the fact that I can fit my yoga in at any time of the day or evening and more importantly, decide on the type of class dependent on what I need at that time. For example, yoga for neck and back pain, for feeling stressed, for waking up, or for getting relaxed just before bed.
So, I am at the very beginning of my yoga journey and I have a feeling that it will be a long and hopefully satisfying one, with multiple benefits, both mental and physical. I certainly hope that it will help me feel more at one with my body and understand not only it’s limitations, as I move through my 50’s, but also it’s possibilities. At the moment, my beginner status is all too evident, particularly when it comes to the all important breath. I am making the usual rookie mistake in that I often forget to breathe completely as I screw up my concentration into holding a pose, which rather defeats the point. I’m sure it will all come together in time.
Finally, if you watch any of Adriene’s classes, you will see she often has her dog ‘Benji’ lying down next to her mat. I think we have a lot to learn from the calmness and serenity of our animal friends, and I often practice with my own little furry yogi, Dennis, looking on. I thought I would leave you with a picture of him❤️ Namaste. 🙏