Standing Forward Bend, Uttanasana, or what Bikram yoga teachers call – “Japanese ham sandwich”
I love yoga. It’s been 3 years and the interest is still going strong. I hope it stays because this is probably the only healthy hobby and interest I’ve ever had. I never took interest in any physical activity before yoga and lived my life sedentary, sitting in front of the computer, TV or dining table all the time.
Prasarita Padottanasana C, Ashtanga Primary Series – it took many classes before my fist could touch the floor
What’s commonly said about yoga is how it’s healthy for mind and body, increases flexibility and anybody can try. I’ve known that for years but there are some things I learnt only through experience.
7 important things about yoga nobody told me:
1. The benefits of yoga occurs outside the mat
It is misleading to think that a session yoga can burn you a lot of calories. If that’s what you want, you’ll have better luck swimming, jogging, Zumba or with higher intensity workouts. In fact, yoga doesn’t burn much and sweating in hot yoga doesn’t make you lose anything more except water mass.
What I think made a significant difference was that it took up the bulk of my time and thus I indulge less in eating mindlessly or sitting my day away in front of the TV or computer. I try to attend at least one class every day! And the reason why this is possible with yoga is precisely because it’s low intensity – you could spend 6 hours a day on it without feeling too drained out. With the whole afternoon gone, you wouldn’t have the free time to go have high tea or have a heavy meal. To accommodate to yoga, you’ll end up with light salads or juices between classes because you can’t do yoga with a full stomach.
The good effects extend beyond my time on the mat and it’s so hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it yourself. It has influenced my taste in certain food (like banana and coconut) too. The changes in mind and body is ongoing and yoga brought more positive changes in my life than I initially anticipated.
2. Yoga is a lifestyle, not a one off thing
This is closely related to point #1. Be prepared for an entire change in lifestyle (which will come in place naturally). For any physical weight loss associated with yoga, I think it attributes to the change in diet and lifestyle which comes with it. For any stress relief from doing yoga to happen, you need to breathe and live yoga before expecting to see any changes.
To make it for my favourite classes, my sleeping pattern has changed. I willingly gave up late nights for morning yoga. That said, yoga as a lifestyle will only happen if you practice daily or at least 4 times a week. If you are unwilling to make any changes and only turn up for yoga once a week or twice a month, you might as well not attend because your muscle memory will probably not remember any changes in the body due to the long hiatuses and being away from it you probably won’t have any mind and body changes.
Also do not just slot yoga into your schedule simply by choosing what’s near you or offered during your convenient timeslot. You may not even like that class or teaching style and that’ll not make you feel like you can love yoga. Instead, plan your schedule according to the yoga timetable. Make it a point to attend classes you really like as often as possible. It doesn’t “just happen” if you don’t make that concious effort.
Your food choices will gradually change as you pick up mindfuless. If you still insist on eating the same diet as you did before, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any difference overall (not just weight issues, but also health wise and energy wise.)
Bhujangasana, King Cobra Pose
3. It takes passion, not discipline
3 years ago I didn’t start out loving yoga. In the beginning, once a week was too much and I was kind of annoyed it messed up with my dinner hours. I would even deceive myself with excuses to not attend certain classes even though it had been paid for and it was less than 5mins away from where I lived. Now, it has become a natural way of life. It even improved my nocturnal sleeping pattern(which I thought was hopeless) because I wanted so badly to attend 7am weekday classes or 8am on Sunday (that’s crazy for Sunday standards).
This is NOT a matter of discipline. It should feel effortless to go for yoga. In fact, if I miss a day without a good reason, my mood will blacken the entire day. Being occupied with yoga makes me lose interest in other unhealthy habits and that’s a major good thing nobody ever talks about (why?!)!
I can wake up at 6am for yoga but not for anything else. Not even breakfast because I do not like to eat breakfast and I am certainly not a morning person. It is pointless to be physically there when you’re heart isn’t. You need to enjoy the practice, and not see it as something you attend reluctantly.
4. You may not love it instantly
Of course, there are many people who get hooked the first time. That’s great! But unfortunately, it wasn’t the case for me 8 years ago. I even gave up on it halfway through the course because it was so boring, did not learn anything and swore off yoga for years. I gave it another chance 3 years ago and this time, I tried all sorts of yoga – Bikram yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa flow, Sivanandan yoga, Core yoga, Power yoga, Yin yoga, Yin-Yang yoga, Hatha yoga, Hatha flow yoga and Restorative yoga just to name a few common styles.
This chart basically sums up the common styles of yoga and how you can choose your first class:
Point is: every style of yoga is different. If you didn’t like the first class you tried, don’t condemn the whole activity. Try another style, try non-heated, or simply try another teacher – the experience can turn out very different! It was that one good teacher that changed my perception and got me hooked. 3 years ago I would NEVER imagine that I would willingly lead the active yoga lifestyle I have now.
Currently I do hot flow (Vinyasa) yoga mostly, because my studio offers mostly hot classes and I love flow classes the most. I am not a fan of the hot room to be honest but since my favourite teachers are there, I can make do with the heat. My first priority is always the teacher. Every teacher has their own style and it makes the biggest difference.
5. Do not follow a friend to yoga
You should not simply follow a friend into a yoga class. Yoga is a solo thing – you do not talk or interact during class. You focus on your own practice and shut out from the rest of the world for the entire duration. Besides, you may not like what you friend likes. I personally love yoga as a solo activity where I do not need to interact and can be occupied the whole day having fun.
Of course, you can make friends at yoga or perhaps your friend happens to want to attend the same class. The main point is, you should still want to attend with or without your friend.
6. Yoga clothes is expensive but buy it anyway
When I first started, I just wore whatever I had which was terrible. And at first impression, most people would rather spend $100 on a beautiful dress (to be worn once) than on a pair of yoga crops (to be worn twice a week, for 5 years). This perception should go to the bin. Exercise gear has all the valid reasons to cost more than normal clothes! The technology involved to create the sweat wicking, anti-bacterial fabric will not come cheap and easy. And it’s not a gimmick. My Lululemon gear hardly stinks and doesn’t stay soaked for too long be it after sweating or after laundry – it dries up nicely! I can wear it if I have 3 consecutive classes without having to change out due to odour. That means less laundry to handle. Also quick drying can reduce the amount of bacteria breeding as compared to cotton which gets soaked for too long.
Not every synthetic material is suitable either. Some may cause irritation and you sure do not want that when you want to focus during yoga. The range of motion during yoga is 10000 times more than a normal day walking and sitting so the clothing has to be able to stretch in many directions and hold together well. The last thing you’d want during standing split is a hole in the crotch (yes, it happened to me before with $11.80 pants from Forever 21…).
7. Photos are good to track progress
I never had the habit of taking yoga photos until last month when I participated in a 30 day challenge! I had to take photos everyday and I could see how my alignment was. From there I could make the mental note on areas to improve on during my normal practice. It is important to be aware because you won’t get any benefits doing yoga with bad alignment or worse case, be laden with injury. I gained much more from this yoga challenge than I imagined. What I gained was more valuable than the weekly prize which I won (hahaha).
(source: Hom Yoga)
For the month of April, my yoga studio was running a challenge for the entire month. I decided that I should participate because I felt slightly confident about my form in the poses now (compared to a few months back).
30 poses is quite ambitious for a first timer. Nevertheless, I didn’t think too much and before I knew it, I made it! For many days of April, I would attend a hot flow class early in the morning and after warming my body up with the flow, I would stay back after class to practice the poses for the challenge.
Some of the poses were really out of my limitations and scary on hindsight, but as my teacher quoted: “Do not let them intimidate you, let them inspire you”. This is so true, because wanting to produce a photo to participate everyday, I went beyond my comfort zone and attempted what I thought I couldn’t do. In the end, my body surprised me, especially with the Forearm Stand (Pincha Mayurasana, day 16) which I thought would take another 10 years and arm balances (day 12, 19, 20, 27). This was made possible by multiple attempts and multiple failures. Sometimes I had to do a pose 10 times before my body made it accessible to get into the correct form. Progress comes with practice, multiple failures and also the guidance of a good teacher (which I am thankful to have met!) to ensure a safe practice.
Self-practice makes a big difference if you want to work on a particular pose and this should be done on top of attending classes.
Just keep repeating and you’ll get there. Of course, some poses remain impossible for now, but I believe someday, I’ll get there.
Here’s a collage of my 30 days:
For this challenge, I actually made sure I came really early in the morning where there’s good sunlight and an empty studio for my shoot. I also coordinated my Lululemon tops and I took all these photos with several yoga blocks as my tripod and self-timer of my camera – which increased the difficulty because I had to make it in time before it snaps.
8. Yoga can be really fun
Bonus point! This is no secret but sometimes, you can also take your practice out of the yoga studio!
Temple Pose with high heels
Revolving Triangle Pose, Parivrtta Trikonasana in front of the Louvre