The Yoga Revolution
2 October 2008
Yoga was once reserved for the Zen but today’s Sydneysiders are flocking to practise its centuries-old techniques and they can’t seem to get enough, writes Tatyana Leonov
“Om. Om.” There is only one moment, one thought, one entity. The class is chanting. All voices are in sync. All eyes are closed. All bodies are still. Breathing in and out, all energy goes into concentrating on one thing – nothing.
Lately everybody is concentrating on nothing. Yoga is in. Visualise your boss, your teacher, your colleague or your friend doing the downward dog. As funny as your visualisation may be, it’s probably already happened. Yoga is no longer a niche market full of flexible females and lithe, healthy types. Footballers do it, dads do it, even kids do it.
The yoga explosion in the West began well over a hundred years ago. Yoga schools have sprung in almost every corner of the globe and new manifestations are continuously developing. Originating in India, it dates back many centuries, though no one knows exactly how far. Images of a meditating yogi from the Indus Valley civilisation are thought to be six to seven thousand years old, while the first written account of yoga appears in the Rig Veda, which began to be codified between 1500 and 1200 BC.
Today yoga is a globalised phenomenon. It is practised in studios, gyms, schools, homes, offices and temples all around the globe.
In India it is still a vibrant tradition with many practising it daily as a means to enlightenment. In the Western world it is a way to keep fit, a way to relax, a way to de-stress and escape the daily grind. “Yoga refreshes your mind and body,” says Surya, 28, an IT worker. “You can feel the difference in just few days.”
Some do it purely for fitness, to lose weight or to tone muscles. Others do it to feel better in mind, body and spirit. While to some, yoga is a way of life. “Practising yoga isn’t simply about making your way to class two or three times a week,” says Tanya Mah, 24, a design manager. “It’s truly is a lifestyle choice.”
And it seems it’s a lifestyle choice for many. If you go to gumtree.com.au you can register for Australia’s biggest free yoga class.
Guided by the gurus from Body Mind Life yoga in Surry Hills, the free morning yoga event will be held on Friday October 3, from 6am to 8am at Bondi Beach. With the headline of the banner ad on the website saying “connect your mind, body and soul”, it seems hundreds of people may well do so this coming Friday.
If you can’t make that, Google ‘yoga’ and your screen will fill up with pages of diverse results. In its many variations, yoga as we know it is generally associated with the asanas (postures) of Hatha yoga. “Asanas and pranayama (breathing) come from Hatha yoga and are designed to bring the body into a perfect state of wellbeing,” explains Christian Simpson, the principal teacher at Acharya’s Yoga on Pitt St.
Apart form Hatha yoga, other common styles found in Sydney include Ashtanga yoga, Bikram yoga and Vinyasa yoga. There are many different types of yoga but the commonality between them is that every method involves self-discipline and self-exploration. “Yoga is more than simply moving the body around, it’s a process of healing and of peeling back the layers that bind us,” explains Tanya.
Meditation is the backbone of yoga, though not all classes incorporate it into their program. Acharya’s Yoga have been teaching meditation and yoga for over 40 years. “We teach Acharya’s Hatha yoga because it provides maximum benefit to the body and mind in the time given. It is precisely taught, and with understanding and compassion for the students,” explains Christian.
If you’re after something with a bit more movement, Power yoga might be worth trying. Athletic, yet meditative, it’s a vigorous, dynamic mix of sweat and spirit. “I love getting on my mat and exploring my body and how I’m feeling in the present moment. It feels good to move with my breath, to feel grounded in the pose whilst having fun,” says Tanya. “Sometimes I’ll practise Power strong, other times I try easy.” Body Mind Life in Surry Hills teach Power Vinyasa for those seeking an energetic class, and Fluid Power yoga those who enjoy a creative, flowing approach.
Body Mind Life also specialise in Vinyasa yoga. The word vinyasa means ‘arranging’, and refers to sequencing a yoga practice in a certain way. “Vinyasa flow is good for people who want to flow in their practise a bit more,” explains Evangeline Yuen, who teaches at the studio regularly. “The flow links each posture with breath.”
Another type of yoga, unique due to the temperature it is practised in, is Bikram yoga. Also known as Hot yoga, it was developed by Bikram Choudhury and a Los Angeles-based company. Done in a heated room, it is believed the hot temperature (same temperature as your body) warms the muscle, helps prevent injury and cleanses the body by flushing out toxins through the sweat. “I like to practise Bikram yoga, because I want to hold static postures for a long time. This forces me to really focus on alignment and breath. It’s a very mentally challenging practise,” explains Evangeline.
Trying various types of yoga is the best option as different styles suit different people. Some schools ffer discounted memberships for a certain number of days to give you a feel if it is the right place for you. Whether you choose to flush out toxins through heat, jump from pose to pose, or flow through positions, yoga is in.
Evangeline Yuen is a yogi, yoga teacher and designer of Australian-made yoga clothing Yogalicious. She teaches Vinyasa yoga at Body Mind Life in Surry Hills and at the Bathhouse Yoga Studio in Kings Cross. She also teaches Bikram yoga in Bondi Junction. Here she answers some common questions.
Q: Do you have to be flexible to do yoga?
A: Only flexible in mind. As you develop a regular practice, your body will open up and you will become more flexible.
Q: How often should I practice to get benefits or see results?
A: I would recommend to practice at least three times a week to notice results.
Q: What are the benefits of a regular yoga practice?
A: Not only will your body strengthen and tone and become more flexible, but yoga also relieves stress and anxiety, settles the mind, promotes a healthy lifestyle, increases energy and circulation, mental clarity and concentration and heightens awareness.
Q: Why should I practice yoga instead of other types of exercise?
A: I never tell people to stop other types of exercise. If you like to run, surf, swim etc, than do that and in addition to yoga.
Q: How should I prepare for my first yoga class?
A: Make sure you get plenty of sleep and are well hydrated with water. Wear comfortably clothing. Come 15 minutes early to register and leave your expectations at the door. Bring a mat and towel if you have one. If not, you can usually rent one at the studio. Have an open mind and relax. Have fun!