Body, Mind and Sol: Why and how should I yoga?

Sol Walkling will be guiding you through your health and well-being needs in a regular Thursday column. (AAP)

We all know we should take better care of our minds and bodies - but where to start? Sol Walkling shows you how to kick-start your total well-being routine.

Why and how should I yoga?

As a mind body studio manager and avid yoga and Pilates practitioner myself, I get asked this question on a daily basis. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I got asked this question, I'd be able to bathe in the $6.50 coconut water I purchase after class instead of just making up for the liquid I've left in a sweaty puddle on the floor of my favourite studio.

But before I get stuck into my first health and wellbeing column, here are my credentials in brief. I've explored various sports since I was a child, started yoga at age 10 and turned towards high energy exercise forms such as boxing, running, dance, Tae Bo in my late teens - the motor skills still come in handy in packed yoga studios when the person in front of you abruptly lifts their foot to three-legged dog. My exploration of health and wellbeing for myself and clients has seen me study fitness, holistic wellbeing, Pilates and yoga therapy - on top of journalism. 

I feel confident to tell the yoga curious to just: "Explore, play and choose for you." With a staggering 22 million people doing yoga in the USA alone (according to the SGMA), it seems to logically follow that there must be something to it - something more than just stretching. Perhaps, you may think, the glowing zen shown off by so many yoga teachers may rub off. Or maybe you know someone who's life has changed dramatically through yoga. They may have told you that it helped them over a break-up without the need for the drama, for example.

Yoga literally means "to yoke" in Sanskrit - the union of mind, body and spirit. As a centuries-old tradition, there are enough different variations to suit every new yogi's needs. A little like a Cadbury party mix but with the additional benefit of potentially losing weight, you'll get to unwrap your own body and mind connection in class and find what makes you melt - after the initial struggle and resistance, of course. No points for going to one class and throwing in the towel. Jump on in and hang on for the sun salutation ride to yogic bliss.

While the uninitiated often think yoga is all about stretching, a true yoga practice allows the student to explore body, mind and spirit through the medium of physical play on the mat. As you stretch and strengthen your body, wonderful things take place on a physical and mental level. Without any need to be religious or seek transformation, the simple act  of repeating the same motions on the mat while cultivating a different response is a clever use of your body as a vehicle for change. Studies show yoga can re-map your brain and help with a number of physical ailments, depression, anxiety and stress to name just a few. Over time this play in set parameters - similar to the way a child learns - can help you develop a kinder, more compassionate and relaxed attitude first towards your own body -  no need to go further, push harder and be better.

Yoga studios also build community. Try sweating next to someone for 90 minutes in unflattering poses and not sympathising with your neighbour when they let out a groan in the 20th high to low push-up. You'll want to join them.

Choosing for you is really quite simple. Like a strong workout? Look for words such as "hot, strong, power, flow". Go for "gentle, yin, restorative" sessions, if you would like to approach the practice slowly. If you have any injuries or need help with posture, Iyengar could be great for you. If you are recovering from illness or just want to de-stress,  Hatha and yin are more restorative. Power, ashtanga, Bikram and kundalini yoga tend to be on the fast and upbeat side which allows some people's busy minds to shut down.

For those who still want to go hard rather than let go, there  are, of course, the yoga championships.

Sol Walkling is a mind body studio manager.

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