Many of us are guilty of jumping to the wrong conclusions about yoga: it’s a religion, you have to be flexible to do it, it’s all about chanting.
Yoga is still on trend, and that includes here in Abu Dhabi.
But despite Instagram, yoga is not just about bending over backwards or standing on your head. It’s not even about whether or not you can touch your toes.
In fact, these physical postures – known as asanas – are just one element of yoga.
Yoga is a way of life that incorporates a physical practice and mental teachings that encourage a balanced frame of mind and emotional wellbeing.
“I was one of those people who thought yoga was meditation,” admits Mariam, owner and founder of The Studio.
“I went to a really intense yoga class by mistake and ended up coming out dripping in sweat – and I loved it.”
Mariam’s yoga journey started as a stress reliever. It provided the perfect opportunity to balance her grueling schedule studying industrial engineering with
personal time and relaxation.
Similarly, Neli Merris, a yoga teacher, sound healing alchemist and founder of AnaadiYoga, started her yoga journey from a physical perspective.
“I don’t think I had any expectations, I just happened to come across a yoga class DVD,” she recalls.
“I did it at home and loved how I felt afterwards. I just wanted to do it again and again and explore more. Now I do yoga every morning when I get up and before I go to work.”
While Neli and Mariam’s journeys both started from this physical standpoint, the overall benefits became obvious and continue to drive them today.
“I genuinely think people are unaware of how yoga strengthens your body and fixes your posture; it’s also great for prenatal exercise,” says Mariam, a mother of two.
“But it is also good for the mind; you learn how to sit still. In this day and age, people are living a really fast-paced life and yoga teaches you to slow down and pause, which does wonders for your mind.”
Neli adds, “Yoga has changed my life in many ways: it has changed my relationships, my eating habits, the way I deal with emotions, my friends, absolutely everything. Everything has turned around 360 degrees.”
Real yogis know it’s not about whether or not you can stand on your head. Despite what people may think, you don’t need to be super fit to do yoga.
“In our society, yoga is seen as a physical asana, but it’s way easier than that,” Neli stresses.
“It’s basically just breathing; it’s about being calm with yourself and being peaceful, thinking loving thoughts. Anyone can do that – you don’t have to be experienced to think loving thoughts, follow your breath or stretch out your arms to the sky and bend down low to touch the ground.
It’s such a universal, unique system that anyone can do regardless of size, shape and age. Anyone can embrace it in their lives.
“I thought yoga was just physical and was all about moving your body, ”
“When you first get into yoga you start to physically feel better, but you then begin to
feel emotionally better.
“You find that unity, harmony and love within yourself. Once you begin to find that, you expand that, and you then begin to find that unity and harmony within your family and your community, your work, everywhere.
“You find more compassion for all the living beings on this planet, the plants, the animals, the earth itself.
“This is how I see yoga as a whole; it is realising that we are all one. There are no unnecessary backgrounds such as skin colour, culture or gender, we are just one.”
So where do you begin?
While Mariam started off at a hip-hop yoga class by mistake and loved it, not everyone will be so lucky with their first yoga session.
So it’s important you have a positive experience and choose an appropriate class for your level.
“I would definitely recommend swing yoga,” Mariam says.
“People think you have to be super flexible and great at yoga but it is actually good for beginners.
“This is because if you’re really not flexible, the swing is there to support you and to push yourself to open up your body.”
If you feel more comfortable in your own home, you could follow Neli’s path and
try a yoga DVD.
This could also help you if you don’t have the money to attend classes or your schedule isn’t flexible enough to attend regular sessions.
“You can do [yoga videos] at home; start with breathing exercises, stretching, maybe some meditation to ground yourself,” she says.
“But it’s always nice to be in a class to have a teacher to guide you, adjust your positions and to be with a group.
“If you are a complete beginner, look up places that offer regular beginners’ classes, which go down to basics and work at a slower pace.
“Vinyasa is not ideal for beginners as you do some more complicated positions. I
“I would say hatha is probably the best. This because you do individual asanas, which you may hold for longer or even shorter lengths of time, and there is less repetition compared to the Vinyasa style.”
As with any new activity, be sure to tell your instructor if it’s your first time or if you’re unsure about any element of yoga, particularly if you have any injuries.
Experienced instructors should always offer modifications if you cannot achieve the full pose and can help guide you based on your individual needs and abilities.
Words: Rachael Perrett