✦ Many stepped into a yoga class out of curiosity, others were simply looking for a different exercise regime. Whatever the reason, those who continue to do it swear by the changes it has made to their lives.
Given its popularity, yoga has now expanded across the world and has many faces. You can find yoga centres that are more classic, some have a neighbourhood feel and others can be quite fancy too. For those who are new and curious to begin, this overload of information can be confusing and even deter people from just giving yoga a go.
Brilliant-Online Content Writer, Yann Tyng spoke to her yoga teacher Romina Michelizzi to get to the heart of yoga, and to clarify a few misconceptions.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is a way of life. It's a way to live more consciously. First, it's a physical consciousness. When you practise regularly, this consciousness moves beyond merely the physical i.e. it's no longer about the postures (asanas) or breathing techniques (pranayamas). It spills over into every action you take in your life. You become more aware of how you communicate, how you eat, how you prepare your food, your relationships etc.
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Is yoga always slow? Isn't it boring?
That really depends on how your yoga teacher gives the class. Yes, it can be slow, but there is a fluidity in the slowness, and it's in this slowness that we find tranquility and calm. It's a mental and physical calmness. You learn to observe with clarity. In our modern world, everything is too fast, too much, and yoga has a different rhythm. It allows you to breathe and to observe. Some may not like it, and that's okay!
Is yoga only for flexible people?
No. Yoga is a practice for life, it helps keep your body supple over the years. So if you're not so flexible, you'll benefit as it helps you to stretch. As we get older, we all lose our flexibility. Yoga helps the body to maintain flexibility long-term!
Some also think that yoga is very acrobatic, and it isn't. The thing is, when yoga started to become popular, people see postures that are impressive on social media, but yoga isn't just that.
Yoga is for everyone - children, teens, adults, the elderly. We tend to see more women in yoga, perhaps it's social conditioning that we think women do quieter exercises and men go for the rough stuff. That's changing nowadays.
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A good yoga teacher will adapt the class according to the people in the group, always taking into account that each body is different. It's all about respect really. You shouldn't be forced into doing postures that your body isn't able to do. We're here to heal bodies, not break them!
Yoga is not a race, there is no end goal to rush towards, no perfection to attain. The most important thing is to really listen. Listen to yourself. How are you really feeling? Listen to your body. How is it feeling?
Yoga is a great complement for all kinds of athletes - for surfers, for runners, cyclists etc. In many sports you may end up working one side of the body more than the other e.g. golf, tennis etc. and yoga helps you to balance that up. Other sports like cycling may give you tight muscles and yoga helps to ease and lengthen that out.
Yoga is expensive.
All you really need is a simple mat. Try not to get mats that are too cushiony. There are other tools like blocks and yoga belts which can be helpful, especially when it comes to adapting to physical limits, but again, they are not a requisite. In fact, you can always improvise and use a scarf or an old belt from your trousers! There is one style of yoga that does require more tools than others and that is Iyengar Yoga. But usually the centres themselves would provide the necessary tools.
For clothes you just need simple, comfortable ones that allow you to breathe and move freely. Also, try to wear clothes that allow the teacher to see your alignment clearly.
As for the place where you take classes, there are really all sorts. A centre that is more expensive does not necessarily mean the style of teaching would suit you best. You need to try several places.
The most important thing you need is your willingness to get on the mat! And the next big thing is the ability to find a spot of time to allow yourself to actually practise yoga, to take quiet time for yourself to be calm, to just be with yourself. Yoga takes time, and you need patience to practise it on a regular basis. So more than money, I'd say bring your mat, your willingness and your patience!
You must do meditation in yoga.
Yoga in itself is already a meditation. It's a meditation in movement.
What meditation asks of you is to simply Be Present. And that's what we're doing in yoga. Be present in your movement, in your postures, in your breathing. Right here, right now. For example, if you do Vinyasa Yoga, it combines breathing and movements and there is a continuous ebb and flow to it. You inhale with one movement and you exhale as you do the next. This requires a great level of presence and concentration in what you are doing. So really, you're already meditating in the movements themselves. Meditation is not always about sitting still cross-legged.
Yoga in Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain. Photos: Romina Michelizzi
Is yoga only for calm people?
Yoga is for everyone to find that peace within. In fact, for those who are a little more fidgety or nervous, yoga is beneficial because it's an invitation to try to find that oasis of calm within you. Yes, it's going to be more difficult for people who find it hard to be still, but that's what yoga is here to help you do. You need to have patience with yourself and give it time. It's not magic, and certainly not an overnight process. But it does pay off when you commit to it.
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Why are there no mirrors in some yoga centres?
One reason is to avoid students focusing only on whether they look 'good'. The other reason is so students don't just blindly 'copy' what the teacher is doing. Listening is really key in yoga. Listen to the teacher and don't rely only on visual cues to do the exercises. Follow the teacher's voice as it guides you into the flow of the movements. Yoga is very introspective and not so much focused on the exterior.
Do we have to do weird chants in yoga?
Sometimes you hear people chanting or singing repetitive short phrases in Sanskrit in a yoga class. These are called mantras, and they are also a form of meditation. It's a way to create vibrations in the body and calm the body down. It's like how some kinds of music help to soothe the nervous system. Mantras work in a similar way. What you hear, when you sing it, it has a physical impact on the body and on your energy. It's not necessary to do it if you're not comfortable or if you're just starting out. Most committed students ultimately do get curious about it and want to try it.
Ok, I'm interested! How does one start?
1. Which centre?: Check out centres around you, try a class and ask yourself if you're comfortable with the way the teacher conducts the class. Is it something that makes you want to go back a second time? That's really the most important thing. A good yoga class should help you feel better after the class, not worse! I would focus on how the teacher is and go for the one I feel most connected to. Some teachers have a teaching certification and some don't. A certification is not always a guarantee the teacher will be a good fit for you. Observe their behaviour - a person with a certification but who isn't respectful or kind is probably not someone you'd want to be training with! And don't be afraid to trust your own instincts when it comes to choosing a teacher.
2. Online or in-person? There are online classes nowadays, but I don't recommend online classes if you're new, as you need the teacher to correct you physically if you're out of alignment.
3. How often and when? It's ideal if you can do yoga every day, but if you're just starting out, I'd say three times a week is a good number to start. Personally I prefer to do yoga first thing in the morning, but you can practise any time. Try not to eat before class, or if you do, make sure there's a 3-hour space for your digestion to get through. When you do breathing exercises for example, it's really uncomfortable to do it on a full stomach.
4. Which type of yoga? There are many types of yoga, and for those who are new I'd say start with Hatha Yoga. It's the most 'classic' form of yoga. If you've been practising for some time and are eager to try something new, you can move on to other styles. Ashtanga Yoga for example is more demanding, and it may not be everyone's cup of tea.
5. If you do have some medical condition, make sure you speak with your doctor first before beginning any sort of exercise regime, and always let your yoga teacher know about physical problems and injuries.
Why do yoga?
As a child, I suffered from asthma, which doctors and medication could not cure. I started doing yoga when I was nine, and two years later, my doctors gave me full clearance and I have not had an asthma attack since. I was able to run with other children, and now I'm even going into surfing!
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Yoga makes me feel good, that's why I keep doing it for my health. I also feel good when I see my students leave the class smiling!
Yoga is also a lot about acceptance. There are days when I do get frustrated, and I need to bring myself back to centre, be patient with myself, recognise my limitations and accept them. We may not be able to look like the impressive postures we see on Instagram, and we simply have to accept it. If I have an injury that stops me from doing certain postures, that's something I also have to accept and adapt to. At the end of the day, yoga is really about self-care and self-love.
Yoga is all about getting to know oneself, and each of us has such an immense universe within. The learning never ends! It makes you want to keep exploring your possibilities. And you never stop being surprised by what you discover! - Romina Michelizzi, Yoga teacher
Yoga is a part of my life now and I've got plans in the pipeline to open my own place in Spain to teach yoga one day, so let's see what the Universe brings!
If this is inspiring you to seek some peace and calm in our increasingly frazzled lives, perhaps getting on a yoga mat would be a good start! There are also yoga retreats that take in practitioners on a donation basis, so access to mental and physical health really doesn't have to be expensive. Check out the Vipassana Meditation Centre in Spain. Get ready to roll out your mat!
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