Yoga is something different to everyone and people come to yoga at
different stages in life. They move in and out of it – although certain
practitioners and teachers are dogmatic about consistency!
I first came across yoga through a beautiful school in North Bondi, called Dharma Shala. This initial experience has stayed with me. The room was small but comfortable. It was quiet, too. On entering we took off our shoes and made our way to a little table where the teacher would greet us and where we would pay ($17 back in the day). Then we would collect a mat and unravel it in a neat row next to the others.
While people arrived we’d lie on our backs, our arms above our heads and the soles of our feet together, in a position called Supta Baddha Konasana allowing the body to relax and hips to open before the class began.
Yoga means “yoking together” – the yoking together of mind and body. With that in mind – the philosophy of yoga can be applied to any activity in which the mind and body are connected in flow. But the exercises, postures, movements and technique of yoga practice is a system or discipline which encourages this implicitly. Built into the practice is an emphasis on breath, on quieting the mind and on being present. In other words, it is meditation through movement.
After settling ourselves into the soft ambience of the room for five minutes or so, the work would begin. Class was an hour and a half of flowing practice which linked traditional postures through breath and movement (vinyasa). The structure of the class would take us up from the floor into standing poses with names like warrior pose, tree pose, mountain pose challenging balance and endurance, to seated and lying poses which would stretch and strengthen the body in different ways finishing with bold back arches, shoulder stands and head stands, when the body was well warmed and connected.
Class always ended in shavasana, lying on the back again, relaxed, quiet, all the systems having been pulled or rather yoked together.
This type of class is often called vinyasa flow yoga. It draws on different types of yoga and brings them together through the teacher’s own practice and instruction. Basically, in a yoga class, your body will be stretched and strengthened with a focus on good technique, patience and perseverance.
People are either put off or drawn to yoga because of its “spiritual” nature. If taken lightly, this side of the practice can be used to connect you more deeply and respectfully to your body and the bodies of others. The spiritual or philosophical side helps you see the movements less as dry exercises imposed and more like experiences in the course of a personal and informative narrative, one which is different every day.
Emma Sandall is an ex-ballerina turned fitness and health guru. She
teaches and coaches dance, fitness and Pilates and writes and produces
video for all things movement related. Emma runs Body Playground, a
space to activate and inspire body and soul.