What do picture when you think of yoga? While some may have different ideas of what exactly yoga entails, most have a very familiar reaction to the concept of this ancient discipline. At the mere sound of the word, we picture a person (or, to use a better word, virtually a contortionist) wrapped in to some seemingly impossible pose. We see legs behind ears, backs twisted in to almost incomprehensible shapes and poses. It all looks positively terrifying, we consider; even if the human body can bend like that in some situations, following intense training, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should!
These images often feature celebrities, particularly Madonna, who is a big fan of proving just how flexible she is even though she’s in her sixth decade. While impressive (and to some, freaky), these pictures of impossible poses are not really a true reflection of what yoga is, or what it’s trying to achieve. Taken further, one could argue these poses are actually off-putting for people who want to try yoga – but are quite sure their foot does not, and never will, belong behind their ears.
If you have always been curious about yoga, but somewhat scared that your first class will end in pain, fear no more. You do not, under any circumstances, need to be super flexible to try yoga. It is the discipline itself that allows these extreme poses to be possible, and achieving such feats can take years of dedication and practice – and even then it is entirely option. Yoga will increase your flexibility, but you don’t need to have a core flexibility to begin to learn yoga. Stiff and non-bendy people are just as welcome as the Madonnas of this world!
If the decade best known as the Noughties brought us anything en masse, it was the celebrity fitness video. Every January – of course, perfectly timed to coincide with the January weight loss boom that occurs when people make New Year’s resolutions – celebrities would release fitness DVDs, showing off their own lesser figures and encouraging us to follow their example. Yoga did not escape this trend; with celebrities like Geri Halliwell going as far as doing their own videos, and other well-known converts like Madonna and Courtney Cox-Arquette instilling the virtues of yoga in to our minds, yoga was “in”.
However, with every new celebrity yoga devotee and every new DVD, yoga experts were regularly consulted by the tabloid press – who were quick to dismiss this new “yoga in a box” way of learning. Yoga is, they argued, too complex to be mastered – or even practiced safely – in the comfort of your own home, with no one but an inane celebrity to guide you.
Is there any truth in that, or were the traditional yoga teachers just rebelling against a perceived threat to their livelihoods? Well, a little from column A, a little from column B. Yoga is always best learnt with a qualified, respectable teacher, in a safe location where you can be assisted should physical difficulties arise.
On the other hand, attending a class is not possible for some people due to a busy home, work or social life. So celebrity DVDs do have their uses, and are usually for beginners’ – so the risk of injury is minimal. So long as you warm up and cool down properly, use them freely for a quick yoga boost if you can’t make a class.
You’ve made the choice: yoga is for you, it’s something you want to try and you want to find somewhere to start your learning. Congratulations, you’re at the start of a much-vaulted and much-celebrated road which may well lead to physical fitness as well as an inner calm.
Now all you need to do is find a local yoga class. Your first port of call should be the local gymnasiums. Although yoga is not only offered at gyms, this is far and away the most popular place for yoga classes to be held. The reasons are simple; existing exercise rooms lend themselves well to yoga, with their clear floors and bright lights, and most people who attend a gym have an interest in physical fitness as it is – so it makes sense for them to be able to get all of their fitness needs met in one familiar building.
In most cases, you will not have to purchased a full gym membership to attend a yoga class at the facility. This is always a good option for general physical health, but by no means essential. You will usually pay for a six-week course up front, though the length of the initial payment period may differ depending on your location. If you do join the gym, the class fee will usually be reduced for gym members, so check that out.
If you don’t like the sound of the gym, check your local Yellow Pages or listings. You may be able to find an independent practitioner to learn from in your own home, so keep that as an option.
The vast majority of us put an effort in to our appearance – even when we’re exercising, we’d rather look as good as possible rather than sweaty and miserable. If you are thinking of taking up yoga, the same practice of wanting to be “well turned out” applies. Yet with an unknown discipline, it can sometimes be difficult to select what to wear, as you’re unsure of exactly what you’ll be doing.
One way to deal with this is to go along to the end of one of the yoga classes prior to the one you’ll be attending, and – without being obvious – have a quick look at what everyone is wearing. As every class, every gym and even every city is slightly different in what they wear, this is the best way of discovering ‘common practice’ at your local gym. Alternatively, when you sign up for the class, ask what it is recommended that you wear. Don’t worry about this, as the question has doubtless been asked before, and it will provide the answers you seek.
If, however, that all sounds a little too forthright, you can go for an “anything works” option – something that will fit in everywhere. Many people who practice yoga work in leotards, skin tight lycra ensembles that allow for maximum flexibility – so that’s an option if you’re brave enough for such exposure. If you’d rather be a little more covered, a baggy tee-shirt and stretchy leggings work well. Just ensure you can move freely, without any restrictive fabric, and all will be well.