Yoga For Life
I am a yoga bunny from way back. (You were more likely to find 12-year me attempting Tree pose in my bedroom with a copy of Teach Yourself Yoga at homework time than revising logarithms, that’s for sure.) Over the years since then, the one nugget of anti-ageing advice that I give out to everyone – aside from recommending eight glasses of water a day and plenty of omega 3s – is to take up yoga. And in the hope of making yoga a little more accessible for people, I’ve just written a (mumbo-jumbo-free) how-to book, Yoga for Life, which you can now buy signed copies of via VH.
With input from yoga teachers that I admire (and a foreword from the esteemed Simon Low), the book is designed to lead readers gently by the hand through many different yoga poses that are useful and often highly enjoyable for women and men who are forty-plus. (And indeed, beginners of any age.) But while it’s certainly perfectly possible to explore the world of yoga with the help of a book – without every crossing the threshold of a yoga centre, or even a draughty village hall – as far as I’m concerned there really is nothing like a class to deepen your practice.
But trust me: it’s all about the teacher. So it may be that you have to kiss a few frogs before finding your yogic prince or princess. When you do make that connection with the right person – when you just ‘click’ with a teacher – it can transform your whole experience, opening your eyes to aspects of yoga that you’ve never thought about before. (And possibly open your hips that bit further, at the same time.) I’ve done dozens of different classes, over the years, in dozens of different locations. Some I’ve loved, some I’ve hated. Here’s what I’ve learned. Of course I hope that you’ll buy the book – but I also hope that you’ll experience yoga in a class setting, with the best possible teacher for you…
Sometimes, the best class for you is on your doorstep. In reality, few of us are going to go very far out of our way – at least, on a regular basis – to get to class, and (as with home practice) it’s practising yoga regularly which makes all the difference in the world. So while there may be a completely brilliant teacher on the other side of town, it may well work better for you to find somewhere/someone closer to home (or your workplace) who’s OK (if not stellar) – and accept that/them, rather than stress out driving/taking public transport to a class further away, for which you may often end up being late. Yoga, as we’re repeatedly told, is all about acceptance. (If you’re seriously unhappy with the teacher or the setting, though, that’s not ‘acceptable.)
Ask friends for recommendations. So obvious. But have you…? Not always foolproof, but a good place to start.
My advice is not to do yoga at a gym. Even if that’s the yoga class on your doorstep. Many gym-based yoga teachers are former aerobics or fitness trainers who’ve done a yoga weekend course or module, and no in-depth training. In addition, though it’s completely against the spirit of yoga, I’ve found gym yoga classes to be more competitive, and you may feel tempted to push yourself further than is comfortable to ‘keep up’. (Bad idea.) This advice is probably going to get me slated by perfectly adequately-qualified gym-based teachers, but many of the yoga injuries that friends of mine have suffered have been in settings such as these – and I don’t want that to happen to you. So whatever you do, wherever you go…
… Check out the teacher’s qualifications. It can be hard to ‘unravel’ a teacher’s credentials because there are so many different schools, and training varies from a weekend workshop to literally years of study. But nobody should feel offended if you ask their qualifications before you take a class with them, and you can then check out what that qualification entailed, on-line. How long did they train? What kind of classes are offered? Information about most teacher-training programmes is Google-able. Most reputable yoga centres have biographies of their teachers on-line, as your starting point – which saves having to ask the teacher personally, if that makes you feel uncomfortable. But for classes held locally, you would be wise to ask, unless that person comes personally recommended.
Ask yourself if the setting’s right for you. I own and run a yoga studio in my home town (www.thewellingtoncentre.com) which is the distillation of all that I liked and enjoyed in other yoga studios I’ve visited, over the years, around the world. It’s light. It’s airy. It’s warm on a cold day (centrally-heated) and cool on a hot one (windows front and back, for a blissful seaside-y through-breeze). It’s uncluttered and features a few carefully-chosen pieces of furniture and artwork: a Ganesh painting from Rajasthan, a Buddha head I’ve owned for years (from who-knows-where, via a local junkstore), a Balinese bench that students can sit on while they take off and put on their shoes, and a carved strip of Indian pegs. There’s also a separate spacious loo (well, a couple) for changing, for students who prefer that. I created this because I’ve learned that the setting for yoga can really affect how much I want to go to class. Does it feel calm? Is the ceiling high enough, or do you feel claustrophobic in the space? On the minus side, it freezing cold, on a cold day? I had to stop going to a class in a local church hall, even though the teacher was fantastic, because it was heated by a single bar fire and the concrete floor made me feel like I was in a cold storage facility. One of the most important factors, if you’re less-than-happy changing in front of others, is to have a facility where you can change clothes, or even – though this is a rare luxury – shower after a class. By all means give it a go, but if the place doesn’t feel inviting to you at all, you probably won’t get to class that often.
And that, I think, would be a real shame…