What can I expect from yoga?

Thanks to celebrities such as Andy Murray to Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow, yoga has become very fashionable.  The media talks of the benefits of yoga; deep breathing, energising postures, and stress control through relaxation techniques. But yoga has been practised for thousands of years and its positive impact may be experienced on many different levels.

At its simplest, yoga is an efficient, safe and controlled method of exercise, increasing flexibility and building strength and stamina. As well as toning muscles and extending the range of movement in the joints, the postures also benefit the body internally; stimulating organs, glands and nerves as well, keeping all systems in radiant health.

Yoga can also lower stress by developing relaxation and breathing techniques. As physical well-being and bodily awareness improve, students develop deeper breathing and an ability to relax more easily.  Many also experience an increase in energy levels, greater mental clarity and a general feeling of calmness and control.

Yoga isn’t easy. It is tough discipline but rewarding! And the benefits of yoga aren’t instantaneous but the result of continued practice.  Yoga gives us the space to take the awareness inwards bringing the body, mind and spirit into harmony.

I have never been to a yoga class before and do not know what to expect. Are all the other people really good at it? Will I feel out of place?
Yoga is non competitive so there is no need to feel concerned about being new in the class. BWY teachers will make you feel very welcome and there is usually a mixture of ages and abilities in a class, unless they are clearly indicated as intermediate, advanced or special interest (i.e. for pregnant women, cancer suffers, children, special needs etc.). At a BWY class everyone is encouraged to work to their own abilities and according to their level.

What should I wear?
Something loose and comfortable that allows you freedom of movement. Yoga is generally done in bare feet but bring socks to wear especially during the relaxation. 

Do I need to bring any equipment?
You will need a mat to practise on but if it is the first time you have attended a class check with the teacher whether spare yoga mats and other equipment are available. If you decide to continue attending you can make a decision on which equipment you wish to purchase. All items are available from the BWY shop and a discount is offered to BWY members. Bring a blanket that you will use to keep warm during the relaxation.

Can you give me an idea of how the class works?
The majority of classes run for a duration of 1.5 hours. They begin with a short, basic relaxation that allows everybody some time to settle down and centre themselves. A warm up session follows, using yoga based movements geared towards the main content of the class, the yoga asanas (yoga postures). The class will include pranayama (yoga breathing exercises) and ends with yoga relaxation. Modifications and adjustments are offered for beginners or people with health issues.

I'm very stiff and/or unfit will I be able to do it?     
You may find that some things need to be modified by using various props to ensure it is safe for your individual body. Certain movements and asanas may not be suitable for you but you will be advised what these are and an alternative option offered. 

I have health issues can I still come and is it safe for me to take part?
If you have a health condition you should seek medical advice from your GP before coming to the class. In the majority of instances you can still attend and practise safely. Certain movements and asanas may not be suitable for you but you will be advised what these are and an alternative option offered. You may also find that some things need to be modified by using various props to ensure it is safe for your individual body.

Is yoga just for women or can men practise too?
Yoga is for everyone so yes they can. It is often thought that men may prefer more dynamic or sporty activities, but this can lead to over-training in one sport, which can in turn cause repetitive stress and other more serious injuries. In addition to the benefits of the breathing and meditation practice, yoga is a full-body workout that creates both strength and flexibility. It strengthens muscles that get less attention during workouts, such as the lower back and knees, and also stretches out the hips, hamstrings, and shoulders, often very tight in men, leading to injury or weakness.

Why do we have to do pranayama? Can't we just relax?
Controlling our breath deepens our relaxation and benefits our entire body by bringing it to optimum health.

Do you use Sanskrit names for the postures? How will I understand?
BWY teachers do underpin yoga practice with philosophy, much of which is written in Sanskrit. Yoga asanas all have a Sanskrit name which makes it easier to identify them across all disciplines of yoga; however BWY teachers do also offer English translations.

Do you sit around chanting? I am not comfortable with this.
Chanting may be a feature of some classes but BWY teachers will not ask you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.

I am not a very spiritual person but have heard that yoga is for spiritual people. Does this matter?
Yoga is not a religion. Most classes provide a healthy balance between philosophy and asana practice and it is up to the individual as to whether they take the philosophy on board.

Yoga can be a benefit to anyone of any age and it is worth finding the right class, DVD or book to meet your specific needs, which might include classes designed especially for pregnant women and mothers and babies. Even if you consider you are physically very strong it is a good idea not to go to an 'advanced' class straightaway. There is much to learn and you could miss out on fundamental learning. Try classes with different teachers and see which seem to suit your needs best. 

Here are a few of the most popular styles of yoga...

The term 'hatha yoga' covers all types of physical yoga. Placing an emphasis on postures with breathing and relaxation, it's suitable for all ages and levels of ability, making it ideal for beginners. Classes that are described as 'Hatha' tend to involve slow-paced stretching with some simple breathing exercises and meditation.

This type of hatha yoga is based on the guru/student model, in which an experienced teacher works with a student on an individualised and therapeutic basis, making a personalised yoga programme based on their age, health, fitness and needs. While it still focuses on postures and breathing and concentration, it's ideally meant for those wanting an individual yoga programme for daily practice or a specific health concern.

This type of yoga puts an emphasis on postural alignment and poses or 'asanas' as a way of deepening relaxation. Physically demanding, it's most suitable for those with a reasonable level of fitness. Iyengar's method teaches a correct way to do each pose, sometimes through the use of props, such as blocks, straps, pillows and chairs. Once postures are done to perfection, the balance in the body is reflected in the mind.

Ashtanga uses a fast flowing, dynamic sequence of 45 poses (which take around an hour and a half to two hours to complete) with a focus on breathing. It's physically demanding, so is best for those who have a good level of fitness to begin with and enjoy a more athletic work out.

Finding a class
If you're just starting to exercise or have a health problem, look for a gentle or beginner's hatha yoga class. If you have a reasonable level of fitness and a strong, healthy back, opt for a middle-level class. Those with a good level of fitness who want something challenging should opt for an advanced class or more strenuous ashtanga yoga.

Whatever type or level of class you choose, make sure to check the teacher's qualifications before you sign up. British Wheel of Yoga teachers have trained for 2-3 years and are up to date on safety guidelines and best practises.


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