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Why yoga benefits both body and mind

Can anyone do yoga? What are the benefits from bending and stretching your body in various poses? What exactly is meditation? We're getting the answers from a Sydney yogi...

Can anyone do yoga? What are the benefits from bending and stretching your body in various poses? What exactly is meditation? We’re getting the answers from a Sydney yogi…

Sometimes dragging your tired feet to the yoga studio after a long day at work can feel like an impossible task but after rolling out that yoga mat the magic starts to happen.

However many of us are still a bit uncertain of what yoga actually is, how it works an who it’s for so we decided to catch up with yogi Mandy Scotney to get some answers and to talk about why yoga is so beneficial for both body and mind.

 

Mandy Scotney

Mandy Scotney

How long have you practised yoga for?

I started doing yoga about 8 years ago. I started at a New Years Eve yoga retreat in Byron Bay with a fabulous teacher – Jessie Chapman.

It was intense but incredible and that year my focus outside of work was all about yoga. I’ve never been one for doing things half-heartedly so started rolling out my mat pretty much every day and found a quiet revolution happen.

My energy levels increased, my body felt stronger and more open and my mind calmed and relaxed.

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

There are several different kinds of yoga, for any yoga beginners out there what are your top tips?

So many different types it’s mind blowing! Top tips for beginners are;

-Find a teacher and/or a studio that you’ll enjoy going to with a schedule that works for you. Let’s face it – if you don’t enjoy it or its inconvenient you’ll find excuses not to go! And if you can brace yourself to get out of bed early and do it before work you won’t ever have that feeling of getting to the end of the day and feeling too exhausted to go… or held up by that one ‘last email’. (Yoga in the morning is the best once you get past that early alarm!)

-Focus on alignment first and foremost. Take the time to learn the postures so that you do them correctly. Yoga is amazing.. if done right. If done wrong you can hurt yourself so make sure you are getting good instruction. Most studios have some kind of Intro level class – stick with those for a few weeks before progressing.

-Build a habit. If you practice 3-4 times a week you will see amazing developments really quickly. Yoga (like anything worth doing) does take discipline but if you stick at it it will happen.

-Get a good non-slip mat. Downward dog is hard enough without your hands and feet slipping all over the place. A good quality mat will cost you between $70-120… but it’s worth it (and that’s the only piece of equipment you’ll need)

-Remember it’s a practice… not a perfect. Accept that there will be things you can’t do. Slow down, listen to your body and just roll with the experience rather than trying to nail everything in those first few classes. It’s hard for us busy, achievement orientated people to do this… but so worth while.

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Tell us about your 4-week beginner program

I’m so excited for teaching this! We’re designing it to be a truly foundational course looking at the core elements and principles of Yoga and the poses in a relaxed, workshop style environment. It’s designed specifically for people who’re relatively new to yoga to learn what they need so they can move into classes feeling confident. Over the four weeks we’ll explore;

-Why we practice yoga and the ritual of class

-Basic yoga postures and transitions

-How to find safe alignment

-Modifying postures to suit your body

-Feeling comfortable in the studio

-Getting ready for regular classes

-We’re already planning to roll this out to our other studios over the rest of the year – dates will be on the website soon!

 

There are hundreds of Instagram accounts with people in advanced poses and expensive yoga gear, is yoga really for everyone? And are there any misconceptions about the ancient practise?

Ooh big question! Yes social media has fed a new focus on yoga with as you say fancy poses in beautiful clothing (and sometimes not so much clothing!). If you looked at instagram you’d wonder if yoga was just back bends, arm balances and handstands performed by really attractive people in beautiful locations.

The physical practice – the asana – is only one limb of yoga. But it is the one that we tend to focus on. For me the physical is the entry point into so much more and at the very least this can be an escape from the busy, crazy, wonderful modern world we live in. I truly believe yoga is for everyone and everybody. The foundational poses can have so many incredible benefits at a physical level and can be performed by pretty much anyone.

Yoga isn’t just handstands or arm balances – it’s mindful movement that encourages you to feel. Firstly to feel your body and then over time to feel yourself at a more subtle level. Its a practice that helps you to get to know yourself, to connect with others, to learn to be uncomfortable (and to notice your reactions when that happens) and to create a quiet space in your mind. If you can do a handstand that’s fabulous – but that’s not the goal.

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Tell us about some of the benefits of yoga that not many people know about

The physical benefits are well known – increased flexibility, strength, balance and endurance. It can increase and stimulate energy and it can calm and soothe. With a regular practice you’ll sleep better, feel better and have more energy. The ancient yogis even talked of it having anti-aging properties!

Research has demonstrated it can reduce the risk of heart disease through decreasing blood pressure and the gentle cardio nature of the exercise. On a psychological level, yoga helps to cultivate mindfulness and reduce stress by shifting your awareness outside of the crazy thoughts in your head and into the physical movements and sensations.

Researchers have shown that yoga can increase happiness levels, reduce anxiety and depression. It can even help you out of a hangover through the gentle detoxing nature of the twists.

For me the most surprising benefit was that I found a community of people that I simply adore. In many ways I feel I found my tribe – wonderful, like-minded people who love to work on themselves, look out for others and take care of the planet… and have a whole lot of fun in the process.

 

There has been an increase of yoga retreats and holidays over the last years. Apart from checking the credibility of the organisers what else should travellers look out for to ensure they book the best option for them?

Each of these will have different types of yoga and different amounts of yoga. Some will be intensive with up to 6 hours or more of yoga a day and they may be have a detox focus – so no meat, dairy, alcohol, coffee etc. Which is great if that’s what you want – not so good if you just want to do a little bit of yoga in the morning but still enjoy your cocktail at the end of the day! Similarly different styles of accommodation – so do your research.

There tend to be two types of these – resorts that incorporate yoga into their daily offerings and specific retreats led by teachers in different locations over the world. In my experience the yoga in resorts tends to be more basic so this is great if you’re new and just wanting to dip your toe in whilst on holiday. If you want something more intensive then the teacher led retreats are fabulous – just research the teacher / teachers involved so you know what style of yoga and what level it’s intended for and if you get the chance to do a class with them before you commit even better.

Make sure you know what is included and what isn’t…. and get a good travel agent to help with those bits not included!

To find out what yoga can do for you sign up to  Yoga for Beginners,  a four week course at BodyMindLife Surry Hills starting on June 30, 2016