Dionne Christian checks out some yoga classes.

In the Past year alone, approximately a dozen new yoga studios have opened; Waterfront Auckland added Sunrise Yoga to its summer events and activities, and high-profile athletic clothing brands which market yoga gear have expanded New Zealand operations.

It points to a growing interest among a broader cross section of the population in achieving health and wellness without a workout which leaves them gasping for breath.

That's not to say yoga can't be intense, strenuous and concentrated but it all depends on the variety you choose and how focused you are.

Just ask mum-of-one Natasha Shackelford, who also participates in CrossFit; a fitness regime which involves a combination of activities such as high-intensity interval training, Olympic lifting and gymnastics.*


Natasha signed up for yoga after hearing it might help her regain strength in her hip which was injured during pregnancy. As well as renewed strength, she wanted to improve her flexibility and further develop mental resilience.

"I used to think yoga wouldn't be enough but you totally get a thorough workout because it involves every aspect of your body," Natasha says.

"It teaches you to push past mental barriers because you might look at a pose and think, 'I can't do that' but you gain the confidence to try anyway and, more often than not, you surprise yourself by finding you can do it."

She has fulfilled her original health goals. Classes now provide the chance to continue to make physical gains as well as much-needed quiet time where she can focus on an activity.

"I get to stretch out and de-stress and that's an important part of health and wellbeing."

The word yoga comes from Sanskrit and means to "yoke" the physical, mental and spiritual body together. Natalie Stettler, who runs The Mat yoga studio in Milford, says it's as much about physical wellbeing as it is about the mind and the soul.

Developed in the East - Hindu, Buddhist and Jainism all have various yoga traditions - yoga is an ancient practice which made its way westwards during the course of several decades and now is considered more mainstream than ever, says Natalie.

There are many different varieties such as anusara, ashtanga, Bikram, hatha, hot, iyengar, kundalini, vinyasa, yin, pre and post-natal and even aerial yoga done in a hammock.


These may differ in intensity and focus but classes generally include breathing techniques; stretching; standing, sitting or lying in different positions to adopt a series of postures - and sometimes this may involve using equipment such as blankets, cushions, belts or chairs - and cool down and relaxation time.

It is well known that the right sort of physical activity can improve cardiovascular health, which lowers the risk of heart attacks, strokes and some cancers, so yoga can have positive spin-offs.

Other benefits may include improved musculoskeletal strength, flexibility and pain management as well as having a calming effect on the mind, leading to mental health gains. Natalie says yoga can be modified to suit all levels of fitness and is suitable for complete beginners, athletes, children, senior citizens and mums-to-be, as well as those who have recently given birth.

"It's for anybody and everybody," she says. "I run kids' yoga classes and I also run 'bro-ga' classes for men who tend to think that yoga isn't really a work-out.

"The classes are about showing them how helpful it can be in fitness and wellbeing and also providing an environment where they feel more relaxed about giving it a go."

Johanna Klein, a mother of five in her early-50s, started yoga for the first time a year ago because she was concerned she wasn't as flexible as she used to be. She says she has made physical gains which have helped with the other activities, - swimming, running and cycling - which she enjoys.

"I like the feeling at the end of a class when you feel physically and mentally relaxed at the same time as having had a good work-out," she says. "Those feelings extend throughout the day and into other activities. I'm far more aware of my body and how I use it throughout the day to bend, stretch, squat, etc.

"Overall, I think it's making me feel younger rather than tense and sore. That's a good feeling."

Johanna, Natasha and Natalie say there are a number of ways to find a style of yoga and classes to suit. Read online about the different kinds then try a variety you like the sound of and believe will suit you.

If you have existing health issues, talk to your healthcare provider first and the yoga instructor so, if necessary, stretches and postures can be modified.

Every Sunday, lululemon stores and showrooms turn themselves into instant yoga studios and run free classes led by instructors who, like Natalie, come from local studios in the community. Kristy Taylor, lululemon market community connector, says its six stores are a hub for all things yoga and fitness in their communities.

"All of our staff practice yoga regularly so can speak not only about the various styles to try but also where to find amazing classes in the neighbourhood," says Kristy.

"We also open the door to yoga for our guests by hosting #OmSundays, complimentary in-store yoga classes on Sunday mornings, in all of our stores."

*Natasha works part-time for lululemon, which involves practising yoga regularly at local studios to learn what's on offer. In turn, local instructors, like Natalie Stettler at The Mat in Milford, can become lululemon ambassadors in the community.

Yoga and pregnancy

So you're pregnant and looking for an exercise which will suit you - and your precious cargo - during the next few months. Yoga is regarded as one of the safest, but there are a few guidelines to observe.

• Talk to your Lead Maternity Carer about whether yoga will suit you, particularly if you have a pre-existing health condition or possible pregnancy complication.

• Find a class specifically for pregnant women and/or taught by an instructor with experience in prenatal yoga. A prenatal yoga class will include stretches and postures that are safe and comfortable for pregnant women.

• Set realistic goals and don't overdo it. Start slowly and avoid positions beyond your level of experience or comfort.

• Talk with your instructor sooner rather than later if you feel you need to modify certain stretches or postures or if you're concerned a pose maybe unsafe.

• Drink plenty of fluids during your yoga session. It's also advisable to be in a well-ventilated room to avoid overheating. Certain kinds of yoga, notably Bikram and hot yoga, are done in a heated room and this may not be suitable, particularly if you're new to yoga.

• Your centre of gravity will alter as your pregnancy progresses, so you may need to consider using props to keep your balance.