Yoga. What kind of stereotypes does this elicit when you think of it? Do you imagine a room full of hippies doing strange things and wearing weird clothes, and getting in touch with their emotions?
I have been a yoga teacher for almost seven years and practising for 11 years and I have heard every kind of excuse or question that there is about yoga. I can't touch my toes so I can't do yoga. Is that true? If it were, how do you put your shoes and socks on? Well, I bend my knees so that I can do it, I'm sure you do, also.
I'm being a bit of tongue in cheek here but, in reality, there are a lot of questions people have about yoga and adding it to their lifestyle so they can achieve their health and well-being goals. I have created a list of some of the more common questions I have been asked and I will try to answer them for you so that we can demystify yoga and get you out there giving it a go.
What yoga class should I start with?
Yoga is a vibrant practice and there are many different types of yoga classes you can do. What you should first determine is if you are interested more in physical benefits and becoming more flexible or if you are interested in practices that focus on the mind.
The great thing about yoga is that you will work on both areas whether you are conscious of it or not. With modern yoga, there is a class out there that will be where you need it to be you just need to figure out what is your goal. I started yoga because I was tired of being sore and going to the massage therapist or chiropractor regularly.
After a few months of yoga, I moved from going to these practitioners to cope with my active lifestyle to using yoga so I could live and do what I wanted, pain-free. It isn't a cure-all, but the time and money you spend on visiting the doctor, physiotherapist, or acupuncturist could be significantly reduced by doing yoga with some regularity.
How often should I do yoga to feel its benefits?
This is a common question I get and in my opinion the frequency and regularity of doing yoga is more important than the length. What I mean is that if you can commit to 60-90 minutes of yoga a week, it would be better to do three 20 to 30-minute sessions than to try and fit it into one session. Yoga's physical and mental benefits can then go with you more frequently during the week so you can reduce stress, sleep better, feel stronger, and be more confident.
I'm not flexible so how can I do yoga?
This question or comment I hear often, and it couldn't be more from the truth. Yes, a regular yoga practice will help your body be more "flexible", but that isn't the total picture or major focus of the practice. In our results-driven and competitive natures, we want to be good at something right away and just like when you start anything new, it takes time to understand the moves and feel confident doing them.
So no, you don't need to be "flexible" to do yoga. You don't need to contort yourself into all sorts of weird positions and try and have your foot behind your head. What you need to do is breathe, try your best to get into the posture that works for your body, let go of the judgement and looking around at others, and be in the present. These are some of the things we are trying to cultivate when we are doing yoga. As you practice regularly, yoga will help decrease stress, lower anxiety and depression, reduce inflammation, and combat back pain.
There are always challenges to starting something new and being able to feel comfortable doing it. When you start yoga, you may feel some challenges in the practice whether you are after the physical, mental or spiritual aspects to the practice. Yoga will help you feel better in your body, and help you develop the skillset to not just cope with life but to succeed and help you live your best life possible.
Seems to good to be true? Take up the challenge and give yoga a try and see what happens, I'm sure you will be happy with the outcome.
• Tim Seutter is a firefighter, yoga teacher and manager at The Loft Yoga and Pilates Studio, Whangārei.