Monday, 14 April 2014

All About... Yoga!

I've been doing yoga and pilates once a week for a few months now, and I thought it was about time I made a little post about what exactly the two are, the different styles available, considerations, and what I consider the benefits to be. I'm soon to start some new fitness classes, so it's about time I made a little post about the impact (if any!) these classes have had on me. I'm going to start with yoga in this post, as it's the most popular of the two, and if there's interest then I'll put up the second on pilates :)

Yoga is an ancient practice, traditionally combining physical, mental, and spiritual practices in order to attain a peace of mind in order to experience one's true self. Though this sounds a little bit silly, this was actually my main reason for deciding to try yoga - I'd been in a negative place for quite a while, nothing seemed to be working, and so I decided why not try the practice that is supposed to help restore peace of mind? I went into the experience pretty doubtfully because it all did sound rather silly to me, but hey, I was willing to give anything a try at that point.

For those wary of exercise, yoga is very much a different approach. For starters, when you enter your yoga studio you are likely to find the other participants all in there just lying on their backs with their eyes closed whilst they wait for the class to start. Some of the classes I have tried have even been with all of the lights off with the exception of a cluster of small fairy lights! It is also by no means competitive in any way - you are encouraged to simply achieve what you can. If you cannot do something, or do not want to do something, then nobody is going to try to make you.

Types of Yoga
There are several different types of yoga, and if you're interested in trying then it's recommended that you try a few until you find one that works best for you. The first form I tried was Hatha yoga, which is quite slow paced and based more around relaxing stretches with more meditation. And, I'll be honest, I hated it. I found it annoying. I remember having to roll around on my back whilst people around me made strange breathing noises that just irritated me, and I remember us doing 'laughing yoga' which is basically where everyone forces laughter for a couple of minutes! I found the teacher to be infuriating and the whole thing actually had the reverse experience for me, because I ended up thinking of all sorts of negative things out of irritation. However, if you are someone who prefers meditative experiences and slower movement, then perhaps Hatha is the one for you - and I'll add that despite my irritation throughout, I did feel better afterwards! On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Ashtanga yoga, which is fast flowing and physically demanding. My housemate really enjoys this one as she gets a good workout from it - but it's not really for me. There are of course many more fulfilling different needs in the middle, and my personal choice is probably one that any yogi will hate me for - I really enjoy my freestyle yoga class. The instructor takes aspects from the different styles and mixes them together, giving me a combination of slower breathing stretches and more physically demanding ones, with a little bit of meditation mixed in. Personally this class works really well for me as I don't get bored and I get both a workout and a bit of a break.

On which note - don't worry too much about the stretches. I'm not really flexible at all and I'm usually inbetween two people who seem to be able to just go into any pose with no effort whatsoever - I also always find someone to catch my eye and have a giggle with when we're both trying desperately to get our leg to move where it's supposed to go or someone to smile at when they manage to lose their balance and go head first into the mat! I know my friends are worried about not being able to do the stretches and - well, you probably won't be able to at first! But there's always different levels for each stretch and most instructors will explain them to you. I'm perfectly happy doing the lowest ability levels, I'm usually in the minority in the class doing them but I never feel judged for them and they work for me which is what matters!

At this point, I can't really say that yoga has massively improved my flexibility, but it's very early days. I can say that it is beneficial for my health in several ways - my mental health does feel more stable, and I look forward to it each week. And if nothing else, I will make excuses after a long day of work to not go to the gym - as yoga is a little bit lighter, it's much harder to find an excuse to get out of it, so I'll always go to my class unless I'm sick! I find it fun, and relaxing yet challenging at the same time, and I enjoy this about it. I'm going on a spa retreat soon and one of the things I'm actually most looking forward to whilst there is taking my friend to his first yoga class because it's something I think will really benefit him!

Want to Try?
Yoga is available pretty much everywhere right now. I do live in a very yummy mummy part of London, and off the top of my head there are at least three gyms that do it and at least three dedicated yoga studios. I can also think of several in the surrounding towns, and there are inevitably loads more that I don't even know about! Unfortunately, because it has become a bit of a trendy thing to do, it's not at all cheap. As I stated above, unless you know exactly what style it is you're going to enjoy, I would really recommend shopping around a bit first and not signing up to anything that is basically a course in one particular style of yoga - if you don't like it, then that's going to put you off spending any more time trying any other variants! I simply do mine at my local gym - it's the most cost effective option by far for me, and they have six different styles on offer there so I'm able to mix it up easily enough. Most yoga studios will specialise in exclusively one or two styles, but give them a try if they're not going to insist you sign up for a bulk package straight away! You can also find yoga starting at all hours - I do mine in the evening because unfortunately the gym's morning sessions are either way too early or would be a massive rush to get to work afterwards, but I think it would be a great thing to do at any time!

If it's too expensive for you, there are plenty of websites available offering you yoga poses for free. I'd personally recommend that you attend a class first to be able to get you more into the feel for it, personally I am nowhere near as committed when given a series of stretches on a website, but if that's something that works for you then go for it - my local park is always filled with people doing yoga stretches in it now that the weather is getting warmer! Have a look around and give it a try, whether it's for your mental health, your flexibility, your relaxation or just because you're interested, I know a lot of people are curious so why not try it?

What do you think of yoga? And would you be interested in a similar post, but focused on Pilates?
PS. All of the images in this post belong to Ursula Le Guin - unfortunately, none were taken or edited in any way by myself!


  1. I love yoga! I do this 30 day challenge every day, noticed a massive difference :) xx

  2. This post was really interesting to read! I did a yoga in my room last time with some yoga video that I found on youtube, and I liked it. Your post make me wanna do it more often, I'm kind of an impulsive person, so I think yoga could help me to manage my emotions. :) xx

    1. Glad you thought so :) I personally don't think youtube videos would work for me, not only is there nowhere near enough room in my house but I doubt my commitment to finish one without getting distracted by something else! I'm glad they work for you though and hope you manage to do so more often!

  3. Once exams are over I'm now hoping to start yoga to unwind, thank you for this post ^-^

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