Think yoga’s just for supple-limbed, insanely fit yummy mummies who look fab sipping lattes while rocking their designer activewear all day long? Well it’s not! No matter your shape, size, gender, age, physical ability, religion or political persuasion, the many amazing benefits of yoga are available to everyone!
Ease yourself in
Before you say, ‘But I can’t even touch my toes let alone stand on my head,’ ditch the notion yoga is only about contorting yourself into seemingly impossible positions while chanting ‘om’. Yoga is much simpler and more accessible than you may think.
Yoga is a form of exercise designed to create harmony and balance between body and mind. Although it isn’t high-intensity, it’s definitely still a workout! Yoga’s many proven benefits include better sleep, relief from aches and pains, fewer colds, improved strength, increased flexibility and feeling more relaxed. Yes, by holding steady poses and practising breathing techniques and simple meditation, you can access a wealth of wellness.
As a beginner, it’s a good idea to have a trained instructor help you with your form to ensure you’re doing poses correctly and safely. Ready to find your first class? You may well already have friends who are doing it, so ask for their recommendations of teachers and schools. Many fitness centres have yoga sessions for different levels of experience too; see what’s available at facilities near you. And Yoga Australia has an extensive database of registered, accredited yoga teachers across Australia. Visit yogaaustralia.org.au.
What to expect from a yoga class
Although there are many different yoga disciplines, each with their own styles and traditions, they all share the aim of cultivating health, happiness and harmony. A typical class will include:
• intro from the teacher
• breathing exercises
• physical warm up
• yoga postures
There are a range of class styles, variously focussing on more than the physical experience, honing in on mental relaxation. Look for words like ‘hatha’ and ‘restorative’ in the class schedule. Usually, classes run for an hour to 90 minutes. Cost varies depending on location and the teacher’s experience, but expect to pay from $10 to $30. However, yoga is free with many fitness club memberships. Plus, yoga classes may be covered under your health insurance.
Check with the school to find out whether they provide yoga mats. You can always bring your own – pick one up for under $15 from Target or Big W.
Two poses to get you started
Downward facing dog
Start with your hands and knees on the floor, wrists in line with your shoulders, knees directly below your hips and toes tucked under your ankles. With your fingers spread wide, press your palms into the floor.
• Bring your body into the pose by straightening your legs and lifting your pelvis as you exhale. Keep your knees soft. You can ‘walk the dog’ by lifting and lowering your heels to relax your legs further into the position.
• Hold for 5–10 slow, focussed breaths.
• When you’re ready to release, slowly relax into child’s pose (pictured above).
Stand with legs approximately one metre apart. Turn your left foot 90° to point away from your body, keeping your right foot in place.
• With shoulders relaxed, extend your arms out to each side in line with your shoulders, palms facing down.
• Bend your left knee 90°, keeping it in line with your ankle (don’t overshoot as this puts undue stress on the knee). Depending on your height, you may need to adjust the position of your other foot to correctly achieve the position.
• Once in position, turn your head to gaze into the distance out over your left arm and hand. Take deep, steady breaths into your belly.
• Hold this pose for one minute, then swap sides.
What’s yoga good for?
• Yoga tones and strengthens the entire body as you stretch, extend and flex into different positions. It eases aches, pains and muscle tension; improves flexibility and range of motion; aids good posture; stimulates circulation; improves bone health; supports digestion; and helps build and protect immunity, guarding against illness and disease.
• Controlled, deep breathing – an integral component of yoga – helps quiet a busy mind and reduce stress and anxiety. When the brain senses this state of calm, it produces hormones that nourish and rejuvenate from the inside out. The combo of physical movement and mental relaxation also helps to reduce blood pressure.
• Devotees claim it also improves mood, skin, sex and sleep. If nothing else, attending a class or two a week, or practising at home will give you welcome quiet time.