When I say that I’m into yoga reactions vary from, “It’s not for me, I can’t even touch my toes.” Neither could I when I first started. To, “Yeah, but it’s not much of a workout, is it?” Hmm, let’s talk at the end of a Yoga Burn Challenge class with the heat cranked up. Or, “All that hippie-chanting-knit-your-own-granola nonsense, no way.” Things have moved on, my teachers wear technical form-fitting kit and classes are soundtracked by remixes of the likes of Chvrches, London Grammar and The xx. There might still be chanting. But you don’t have to join in. And, “Women in yoga pants, where do I sign up?” Not really the point, but whatever gets you on the mat, I guess.
Yoga, which in Sanskrit translates to yoke or union, has been around for thousands of years but it’s only over the last 100 years or so that yoga has become what we think of today, a workout that unifies your mind, body and spirit. I’m a full-on yoga addict, rolling out my mat at my favourite studio Stretch anywhere between three and five times a week but it hasn’t always been that way.
The first time I tried yoga was at a popular studio in Soho. The class was billed as being for all levels, so I assumed it would be suitable for a beginner. Wrong! The teacher glared at me throughout the class as I clumsily attempted to keep up, grumpily declaring (to everyone, but we all knew who he was talking about) that this wasn’t a beginner’s class. Clearly we differed on our definition of all levels. It was some time before I gave yoga another shot.
The second time was at a trendy studio in East London. The beginner’s class I’d hoped to do was full, but there was an open level class I could join. “Erm, I’m not sure I have enough experience…” I said mid-flashback to my humiliating experience months earlier. “Do you know how to do downward dog?” the receptionist asked breezily. “Yep,” I said confidently. “You’ll be fine.” An hour later, covered in sweat and every body part aching I vowed I would never try yoga again.
But I did. After snapping my Achilles Tendon (which was every bit as painful as it sounds) and unable to do any exercise that involved even low levels of leaping around, I tried Pilates, which I enjoyed for a while. Leg on the mend and getting a bit bored of the miniscule movements that Pilates mostly seems to involve, I found a lovely hatha yoga class at my local leisure centre. Then the teacher left and I didn’t get on with her replacement. I briefly flirted with Bikram. And finally I found vinyasa flow, a fast, athletic style of yoga and Stretch, staffed by creative, inspiring teachers. Nearly two years later I’m still hooked.
I might be high on the happy vibes of yoga but I truly believe that there’s a yoga class for everyone. My advice? Unless you’re lucky enough to find ‘the one’ on your first class, persevere. Take advantage of the introductory deals that many studios offer and try lots of different classes and teachers until you find the combination that feels like the perfect fit. Believe me the benefits, which include a cardiovascular workout, increased muscle strength and tone, weight loss, lower levels of stress and increased flexibility, are worth it.
What’s your experience of yoga? Love it, loathe it, yet to try it? Do share.
Photograph of Evangeline Lilly: Tony Duran/Women’s Health magazine