Hannah Shearer takes two weeks livin’ la vida yoga to try and navigate her way to her ‘yoga centre’. Along the tantalising pathway of de-stressing, flexibility and general enlightenment, she discovers whether a yoga is the yoghurt to soothe a sore throat, the hot water bottle to an ache, or the urine to a jellyfish sting…
Preparation for my yogic journey took the form of watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Peter Bretter, played by Jason Segel, is told to “arch his back while keeping it flat at the same time” which, as he rightly points out, from the downward facing dog position, seem to be two “opposing ideas”. However, in saying this, his teacher just repeats the same instruction as if the second time it will somehow make more sense. Of course it doesn’t, and while everyone else in the class seems to be doing it just fine, the struggle for Peter continues. Amused and confused, I blew the cobwebs off my gym key and headed off to the Edge to sample their array of yoga classes. They comprise everything from dynamic yoga to yoga, rather ominously ‘with props’. And indeed, after attempting the downward facing dog myself, I began to feel conscious of both the slightly uncompromising position and the pain that can actually come from disappointingly limited flexibility. Feeling distinctly like the Peter of the class, I wondered if the internet could help ease the public humiliation.
I hadn’t realised just how many yoga videos there are on YouTube: 621,000 when I looked. There are almost twenty different types of yoga, with some outrageously overwhelming channels, such as ‘insanehomefatloss’ featuring a ludicrous muscled man. Determined not to be discouraged, I went for the tamer option of ‘Yoga for Beginners Part 1’ by ekhartyoga.com. One of the first poses was the Mountain Pose which, from an onlooker’s perspective appears to be just standing straight. In reality, the instructions divulge that there is actually a lot more to it. Peter may have found this one mentally challenging as you are told to pull up your knees and thighs into your hips whilst then pressing everything back out through the souls of the feet. I’m not going to lie, it seemed a bit silly at first to be standing still and trying to get your legs to go simultaneously up and yet down. However, when I gave it a chance I noticed that my posture began to improve and that it’s a lot more challenging to stand aligned and finding your centre of gravity than I had realized. It amazed me that something so simple could seem so complicated and yet take immediate effect. As I continued to work through the poses in this video and a handful of the countless others, I began to notice how much the different positions challenge your flexibility. By the time I had taken a few classes over the first week, I was already beginning to feel the positions becoming less painful as my flexibility developed. I’m not saying I was now capable of dropping into the splits but I could definitely see an improvement.
The health benefits of yoga seem to be remarkably appropriate for students; it improves concentration through its meditation which in turn increases attention span, memory capacity and focus; is good for improving mood by decreasing anxiety and stress; strengthens your body, all of which I would certainly welcome. The development of yoga can also be extremely rewarding. The pinnacle practice in my view must the soaring heights of Bikram yoga, founded by the 1963 gold medal Olympic weight lifter, Bikram Choudhury. This intense challenge is practiced in 40.6 C temperature; definitely something to work towards. A more yoga-friendly diet, increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables at the expense of a reducing meat is not only healthier, but perhaps furthers the benefits gained through practicing yoga. Although improvements in flexibility and posture are the most obvious benefits, yoga can encompass all aspects of life; your determination, treatment of other people and even inner peace can all be affected.
Whether you’d like a bikini body all year round; ‘yoga for the winter blues’; weight loss; core strength; or even ‘bedtime yoga’, there seems to be a yoga video or class to suit and cater for everyone, even the Yoga Society. My whole life hasn’t been transformed by yoga just yet, but if Adam Levine and Jennifer Aniston are addicted, I’m definitely going to continue on the path.