MY INTRODUCTION TO YOGA
I had never tried yoga before I came to India, and as my mum has practiced it for almost 40 years and my sister for almost 20 years, I thought a year in India would be the perfect opportunity for me to do some catching up and see what all the fuss was about. The first advert I saw was Pragya Bhatt’s for Power Yoga which promised “weight loss, flexibility and peace of mind”, so I thought I’d try that and went to my first ever yoga class on 26th June this year. And I haven’t looked back since!
My pre-conceptions of yoga were that it would be quite relaxing and slow-paced, with a lot of breathing exercises, stretching and posing in awkward, uncomfortable positions (which I now know to be called asanas!) to increase my flexibility. I have no experience of other yoga classes, which may well be like that, but Pragya’s are certainly nothing like that at all! They are HARD WORK and only relaxing for the last 10 minutes or so when we get to lie down in the Shavasana and recover! What has surprised me most about yoga, or certainly Power Yoga, is how aerobically intensive it is; everybody is completely tired, hot and sweaty by the end of a class, and we all know that we’ve had a good work-out. It’s not just about asanas and breathing (or pranayama as I’ve since learned), we also do bhandas, mudras and A LOT of Suraya Namaskars; most days we do around 40 Suraya Namaskars and at least twice a month we do 108.
What has surprised and pleased me most about yoga is that it is such a great all-round work-out. It certainly does work on your flexibility, but also on your strength, stamina and cardio-vascular fitness, and it works on every single part of your body in just one hour a day. The Surya Namaskar, in particular, seems to exercise every single muscle group in one exercise! You can practice anywhere, you don’t need a lot of space to do it, and you need virtually no equipment.
But what I like best about yoga is that it is a real leveler. What I mean by this is that everyone has their own individual strengths and weaknesses. In a lot of sports and fitness classes, there are usually certain people who are the “fittest”, “sportiest”, or whatever you wish to call it, and who are good at everything. This is usually based on aerobic fitness, but in yoga, these people are not necessarily the best at many other aspects of the practice. Being a military officer myself, I have always done a lot of exercise – running, spinning, Body Pump classes, circuit classes etc – and have always been fairly fit, but whilst I find that I am still quite aerobically fit and can recover from the exertion of 20 Suraya Namaskars quite quickly, I am not as flexible or able to do many of the asanas that other class-members can do. Yoga really does bring out each individual’s strengths.
In terms of what Pragya offered in her original poster, I have definitely seen a big improvement in my flexibility, although I still have a long way to go with that, and I am definitely stronger than when I first started. I have lost a couple of pounds, but not a great deal, but for me, that’s not why I started doing yoga, it was more about my general fitness, strength and flexibility, and it has certainly helped me improve all of those. As for my peace of mind, I certainly feel very relaxed when I leave Power Yoga and I am learning that many of the difficult asanas that I think I can’t do are just an attitude of mind and believing that you can do them – maybe that’s a lesson for life in general…
Practising the warrior pose with Elaine Strong at the Gateway of India Mumbai. Not a very good demonstration of the pose, but then we hadn’t warmed up!
Preparing to start a round of Surya Namaskars.