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How to become a master of the mat – no flexibility required!
Yoga for All Ages: No matter your fitness level, yoga is one of the best things that you can do if you’re trying to improve your activity levels. It’s perfect for people of all ages, makes you feel great, and there are absolutely no headstands needed.
Paul von Bergen, founder of Sydney’s Billabong Retreat, says many people are put off by yoga because they start by trying the wrong kind. “One of the best things about yoga is that it is suitable for everyone,” he explains. “The problem is many yoga classes are not suitable for everyone, so you really need to realise that there is such a wide variety of classes.”
You can start yoga at any age, and there are plenty of suitable routines – including some that you can do in a chair. “In fact, the older you get the more important it is to move and understand your body,” says Paul. “Ultimately, everyone only needs their own daily personal practice, where you can do your yoga in your way.”
YOGA IS FOR EVERYONE
Yoga has been practised for thousands of years, but a lot of the misconceptions that we have stem from the west, where it’s been popularised by influencers and celebrities.
“Yoga is often misunderstood to be something that mainly women do in lycra to become bendy and flexible. How wrong
that is,” Paul explains. “Yoga could involve sitting on a chair and moving your little finger with focus and attention. Yoga could involve sitting in silent meditation.”
If you’re looking to improve your fitness levels, there are plenty of options for all ages and abilities. “Physical yoga should meet you where you are and this is one of the challenges of the group yoga class that the west invented,” says Paul. “It assumes one size fits all and it doesn’t.”
WHY SHOULD I TRY IT?
There are so many good reasons to take up yoga. An easier question would be, “Why not?!”
“The benefits of practising yoga are actually not just physical, but also mental and spiritual,” says Paul.
“Physically, it is pretty obvious – you develop an all-round, well-balanced mix of strength and flexibility.”
One of the best things is how great you feel afterwards. “It also trains your mind to be OK with discomfort, know the difference between discomfort and pain, and be able to sit with ease with this because it is through [this] that we grow and strengthen,” Paul adds.
DO I NEED TO BE FLEXIBLE?
Forget the myths, because you can get all the same benefits regardless of whether you can touch your toes or not. “It absolutely does not matter if you’re not flexible,” says Paul. “I think this is a big reason why many people, including men, stay away from yoga.”
If you’re struggling to do a pose, your instructor should be able to provide you with a modification. “A good instructor will explain that all of our bodies are different, all of our levels of flexibility are unique to us,” says Paul. “There is not one optimum level of flexibility, but instead we learn to work with our body, find its edges, its restrictions, its imbalances and then work to create well-balanced flexibility and strength.”
HOW TO GET STARTED
Yoga classes vary widely so it’s worth spending some time online to get an idea of what’s out there. There’s everything from trendy boutique studios to more affordable community-based options, as well as classes that cater especially for beginners and seniors. Look for instructors who are fully accredited, and let them know if you’re new or have any injuries.
“Start by trying to find somewhere advertised as gentle or yin yoga – you can always go harder later,” Paul advises.
Some studios also offer at-home classes, although if you’re a total beginner they may suggest trying a few sessions in person first.
The most important thing is that you feel comfortable. “We are all different – we should all be doing yoga that meets you and your body where it is at. In fact, this is the greatest learning of yoga,” says Paul.
“So, if you try a yoga class and feel that it’s too intense or painful or that your struggles are not being addressed, keep trying other classes until you find one that meets your needs.”