Something to think about... the beauty of yoga and the modern girl

Okay so it’s not strictly beauty… but it can make you feel beautiful, all over! I’m talking about yoga, which I have dabbled with in the past and have now begun once more in earnest after connecting with my new guru, Vincent, the founder of Yogashala. My practice has really reignited my body and I’m feeling so loved up by yoga that I thought I’d post a story here that I wrote over a year ago about the way Western culture has approached the very ancient practice. You’ll find something about Vincent near the end too.

Yoga - a Western journey
We are told that the key to both slowing the ravages of time and achieving inner harmony is finding the perfect work/life balance – but this is often easier discussed than achieved.
As work and its associated stresses increase as modern life evolves, more and more people are looking for ways to getting a little closer to the above, and improve their minds and bodies while they’re at it. This means the “old school” ways of relaxation such as a stiff whiskey are out of the question, whilst Eastern practices such as yoga are increasing in popularity yet again.
Over the last few years - in the West at least - the practice of yoga has also taken on a competitive edge, which many enjoy as it gives them even more of a sense of achievement alongside the obvious side effects of wellness and a great body. The leader in this area seems to be Bikram Yoga, which has been effectively branded and taken to the world by its creator, Bikram Choudhury. It is practiced in a room heated to approximately 37 degrees celsius with 40 per cent humidity, and works via the “tourniquet effect” - stretching, balancing (using gravity), and creating pressure all at the same time. Growing in popularity throughout the Western world at the rate of knots, it has devotees packing out its classes doing the "30 Day Challenge" (classes attended on thirty consecutive days with no respite) on a regular basis. Bikram himself is still out there spreading the word, and it seems like the modern world wants to listen. The popularity of the Hatha school of yoga - which focuses on breath and relaxation, primarily - is waning, whilst the Ashtanga and Iyengar schools are sitting somewhere in between.
Partner in a retro business and mum Maria Pomirska began her Iyengar “yoga journey” of the past eight years at Auckland's Herne Bay Yoga, where she still attends class. “I'd say that for me, yoga was the quiet, controlled form of exercise that I needed. It builds strength from the outside but nourishes the mind as well as the body, and that has helped in so many areas of my life.”
She had never been interested in any kind of sport or exercise at all, but a few years after the birth of her second child had struggled with the extra weight she had gained and “just knew that I needed to do something, anything” to regain her strength. A friend recommended the Herne Bay school as an alternative option, “and so I went along scoffing at the idea but prepared to give it a whirl”. She says that she immediately fell in love with the feeling of the challenge that came with attaining certain poses, “and it didn't seem that insurmountable… you didn't need to have an incredible fitness level and were immediately encouraged to think of it as a journey not a race”. She enjoyed the feeling that you could progress at your own pace and that there was no competition involved, “and I actually found I could achieve quite a lot, which surprised me and delighted me at the same time”. Without noticing, over ten kilograms dropped from her frame as a by product of her yoga efforts, which now stand at around three or four two-hour sessions per week. She says she thinks more logically now and has a greater clarity or mind overall, coupled with what she calls “a real peace and better philosophy on everything else in my life. I am a lot more patient with my children in particular, and definitely less judgemental of others”.
The owner of Auckland’s East West Bikram Yoga studios, Nikki Harris is intelligent and thoughtful. The thirty three-year old officially embarked upon her Bikram journey in 2001 whilst working as an accountant for KPMG in Canada. “I have always been a naturally stiff person and was doing a lot of running at the time,” she says, “which certainly wasn't helping matters. My first Bikram class was a real eye opener for me and demonstrated the current state of my body and its deterioration like never before.” She began attending classes on a daily basis as per the Bikram way, and found that the stress of her job became more manageable as she began to look forward to her yoga fix every night. It wasn’t long before she was training to be a Bikram teacher at a nine-week residential course in Los Angeles. “I loved it and knew it was what I was meant to be doing,” she says.
In 2004 she was back in Auckland and opened her studio in Newmarket, and now also has a spacious studio near the top of Ponsonby Road. Only Bikram teachers are allowed to own studios - investors are discouraged, as is a corporate structure for your business - and employs two others teachers to help train her ever-growing flock. “The students that understand its more subtle aspects are the ones that are really winning, because they come along to de-stress or explore their flexibility and end up with a great shape as a by-product of regular practice.”
So what sort of person studies Bikram? One is Sue Giddens, owner of The Workroom, a PR and marketing consultancy. She glows with good health, and is an avid off-road runner as well as Bikram devotee. Her first yoga experience (Astanga) highlighted how incredibly inflexible she had become after years pounding pavements and tracks, and when Bikram was introduced to her through a friend, “the heat of the room intrigued me. I was told it would truly help ease stiff, tired muscles, and it wasn't long before I was hooked.” A veteran of the New York Marathon, she initially approached the practice as a “gritty challenge to chalk up, but it actually became a part of life quite quickly. As well as reviving my body, I found it completely rejuvenated my mind too - 90 minutes of concentrated yoga poses in a sauna does not allow your brain to focus on the niggles of your day!”
Vincent Bolletta has been practising yoga for over 18 years, as well as teaching the discipline for around twelve. He has also done his time as a personal trainer at Les Mills gym. He is committed to the philosophy that the mind and body cannot separate and that one is always dependant on the other. “When we are young and practice we want a body beautiful, but as we age the practice of yoga becomes more of a wellness concept,” he says, “more of a concentration on feeling a greater ease with oneself, and a calmness that permeates all areas of your life.” The 40-year-old is a walking advertisement for the results one can gain from practising what you preach, and says that the stage you are at in your life should always determine the kind of practice that you do, and how physical it is, “and as you evolve as a person so should your practice”. He teaches the traditional form of Viniyoga at his Ponsonby studio, where practice is centred around the needs of the individual. Classes are small, and one-on-one time is encouraged for the benefit of all. Throughout his years at Les Mills he saw his clients become more and more amenable to the idea of introducing a few elements of yoga practice into their workouts and is increasingly surprised and delighted by how “everyday” it has become in recent years. He is adamant that it isn't just a pastime for the privileged, and when asked if it is applicable to the life of a busy woman with children he is adamant that yes, it is. “Sure some people are lucky enough to be able to practice is a nice studio for an hour and half four times a week, but traditionally it was done in a cave with little time or energy wasted on material possessions.” Even if that mum takes five minutes alone just to drink a cup of tea in silence and think about her day, that's yoga, he asserts. “It's more than physical, it's replenishment… It's reminding yourself how important it is to just feel good.”


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