Many moons ago I secretly smiled to myself as two close male friends on a mountain bike ride, thinking that they couldn’t be overheard, were unsubtly joking about the terminology for tight fitting Lycra outfits and the benefits of being at the back of the yoga class during ‘Cat stretch’. Roll on three years and that same individual is now a full-on yoga addict and totally embraces the 6am class that he attends daily with his wife.
Gone are the days when yoga was stigmatized as a ‘wacky way-out-there spiritual thing’ that only ridiculously supple people did. Today it is practised by a wide range of people, including twenty million Americans according to a 2011 survey, who understand, appreciate and happily reap its benefits. It increases strength and flexibility, tones the body, eases back pain, and helps you sleep better. Surveys have shown that it also reduces blood pressure, lowers the risk of cardiovascular problems and benefits those suffering from heart disease. It has been found to reduce asthma symptoms, improve mental health issues and assist in stress alleviation, which is something that most of us in this country could do with.
Yoga is believed to be as old as civilisation itself. Archaeologists have found three thousand year old stone seals depicting yoga poses, although the practise would have existed long before this. It has developed subtle changes over the years, more so since reaching the West in the early nineteenth century but its five core principles, regardless of the style of Yoga still hold true. These are;
Exercise and strength
Meditation and positive thinking
Yoga is, as my teacher says, about ‘Abyasa Viranya‘, ‘working with wilful determination and non-concern for the results.’ So don’t worry if you fall on your face during your first ‘chaturanga’, you will just be following the examples of many before you. I still manage to head-butt the floor when I try ‘the crow’ and frequently fall into the person next to me during a ‘one-legged King pigeon’. My aim one day is to be able to do ‘King Dancer’, but having cycled for many years contracting all the muscles that need to be stretched for this pose, I think I’m still a long way off. And let’s not forget ‘Downward-Facing Dog’, a favourite of most yoga class instructors. It will over time eventually become a ‘restorative’ pose, I promise.
Deciding which yoga style is best for you involves some experimentation. Would it be the tropical climate, cardio-style endorphin rush of ‘Bikram yoga’, the calm and stress reducing ‘Restorative’ type, the flowing poses and weight reducing ‘Vinyasa yoga’, strength building and balance enhancing benefits of ‘Power yoga’, repetitive strain-reducing ‘Yoga for Athletes’ or the spirit, body and mind enhancing ‘Anusara yoga’.
Your first class may not push all your buttons but fear not, there are a variety of yoga teachers in town specialising in different styles, so don’t be scared to shop around until you find the type that suits you.