For a long time now, my Instagram feed has been filled with pictures of flexible, gorgeous men and women performing yoga against scenic backdrops. One particularly memorable photo shows a tall brunette with flowing hair, gracefully balancing on one leg. On top of a cliff. In Australia. Perfect life much?
Okay, yogis have received a lot of criticism for posting self-congratulating selfies on social media, but I can’t help but think that if you have taken the time and effort to master Half Moon Pose, you should be allowed to celebrate that with your community. If people don’t like it, they can unfollow you, right?
All I know is, as a self-confessed ‘worrier’, I love the serenity in these pictures and was curious to see what yoga could do for not only my body, but my mind as well. So, after attending my first yoga class, I wanted to share my secret diary of a yoga newbie, detailing my experiences for the benefit of those that may like to try it for themselves.
In the hurry to make the 6.30pm class straight after work, to my confusion I found myself in a room filled with punch bags and adrenaline – only to realise that I was in Fight Club, not Yoga. Not a great start. I swallowed my embarrassment and quickly found the correct room, grabbed a mat, removed my shoes and took my spot in the crowded studio.
The age of the class ranged between about 18 and 55, and the instructor, a man in his late fifties / early sixties, was by far the most strong and flexible person in the room – a great advertisement for the youth-preserving powers of yoga! He was friendly and obviously knew the regulars very well, making chit chat between poses, quickly putting the class at ease.
Strength, Flexibility and Breathing
The hour was split into several sections, beginning with the most rigorous poses to build strength, slowing down to gentle stretching exercises for flexibility, and by the end of the class we were lying on our backs focusing on our breathing to the soundtrack of panpipe music. If it sounds easy, think again – my muscles were aching for days afterwards – but a good kind of ache, the kind that tells you you’re getting stronger.
Rather than performing different poses in isolation, the instructor tried to link everything together in one long, flowing routine. The poses were challenging, but not unpleasant, and there would be a murmur of laughter towards the end of a particularly difficult hold that said ‘we are all in this together’.
Mind, Body, Soul
During the class, the little anxieties I’d been carrying around all day – including the fact that I’d forgotten to trim / paint my toenails before a class where the feet are very much on show – quickly melted away. After the class, the instructor mentioned to me that many of the class members have particularly stressful jobs, among them teachers and lawyers, looking for a way to get fit and relax at the same time.
I was worried that there would be a sense of competition between the more experienced yogis and myself, but everyone was encouraged to move at their own pace, and the instructor suggested ways to ‘modify’ each pose to suit your ability level. Some of the poses demanded great strength and balance, whereas others were a chance to rest.
I was a bit sceptical about the exercise value of the final five minutes of the class, where the lights were dimmed and we focused on our breathing. However, it was very relaxing (to the point where you could easily fall asleep) and it did strike me how rarely I take the time out to just lie down with nothing on my mind, so perhaps there’s something to be said for ‘slowing down’ once in a while.
Tension, Not Strain
During some of the more challenging poses I was aware that my muscles would begin to shake, so I stayed behind to ask the instructor if this kind of tension was harmful. He explained that the more you practise, the stronger you will become and the less you will shake. Tension in your muscles is good – after all, we need tension to hold ourselves upright and walk around – but strain is bad, and may put you at risk of injury. So the general advice is to focus on developing your technique before attempting the more advanced poses, and always stop if you feel yourself straining.
I left my first yoga class feeling relaxed, exercised and positive, making up my mind to pursue a healthier lifestyle. If I can make the effort to go to yoga just once a week, I am hopeful that the result will be lower stress levels, better posture (essential in a desk job) and a better sense of overall wellbeing. Who knows – this time next year, perhaps I will be able to join my Instagram heroes on the cliffs of Australia.
About the author
Vikki is a writer for Simply Gym and is passionate about health and fitness, and particular enjoys outdoor activities such as running and surfing. Her exercise goals for 2014 are to persevere with yoga and take skiing lessons, having been inspired by the Winter Olympics!