Yoga is more than just the gravity-defying poses you see on social media. When practised correctly, it offers a full mind and body workout. And the good news? Anyone can practise it.
The origins of yoga date back over 5,000 years ago in Northern India where it was used for meditation to reach enlightenment. These days, yoga is widely practiced worldwide for its physical and mental well-being benefits and has evolved to include variations like hot yoga, aerial yoga, and even fusion workouts like yogilates (yoga and pilates) and yobarre (yoga and barre).
Numerous studies show that practising yoga has a whole range of benefits. It can help ease stress and relieve anxiety, improve quality of life, help manage depression, promote good heart health and even reduce chronic pain.
Ready to start your yoga journey? We speak to Wendy Chan, Founder and Programme Director at Yoga Seeds, and personal trainer and certified yoga instructor Marcus Tam, for some advice on how to get started on this popular workout.
The difference between yoga and pilates
It’s easy to confuse the two as they are similar in many ways. While both aim to improve your health and well-being, Marcus describes yoga as an inward journey to discover ourselves and to gain more awareness of our mind and body, while pilates was developed as a modern fitness system for rehabilitation and conditioning. “Yoga is a very holistic practice that covers the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of one’s well-being,” Wendy concurs.
There are differences in their exercises too. “Pilates focuses on movement to strengthen core muscles, while yoga is more focused on holding a static posture either for flexibility or balance,” adds Marcus.
Yoga has no age limits
When it comes to yoga, age is just a number. “Anyone who is generally well enough to do a brisk walk in the park or gentle exercises can try out yoga,” says Wendy. All that matters is finding the right style of yoga that’s suitable for your age group.
There are yoga workouts specially designed for kids as young as four to seniors as old as 80. “Yoga for kids focuses more on games and storytelling to capture their attention and stimulate their creative minds, while senior yoga classes are usually gentle stretches and stability poses that help improve balance to prevent falls,” explains Marcus.
Flexibility is not an issue
One of the most common misconceptions that people have about yoga is having the ‘ideal’ body for yoga – that you must be flexible. “If you attend a regular yoga class in any part of the world, you’ll see people from all walks of life, all ages, and all body types,” says Wendy. “Flexibility is not a prerequisite for yoga but rather, something you gain from regular yoga practice.”
On that note, being pregnant is not an issue either
There are prenatal yoga classes specially designed for expectant moms that can help increase strength, flexibility and endurance to prepare them for childbirth. But of course, both advise consulting your doctor or yoga instructor first if you have specific conditions or injuries.
First time? Take it one breath at a time and set goals
Among other things, the practice of yoga involves a lot of poses and this can be challenging for some. “Beginners usually have to get over the shyness they may feel when moving their bodies in ways that are totally new to them,” says Wendy. Marcus also has this to share with first-timers: “Yoga is about how we feel in our body, not how we look in that pose.”
Both instructors also agree that it’s common for their students to find it challenging to maintain regular sessions amidst busy schedules. Wendy advises students to “leave any expectations you may have about it and to enjoy it one breath at a time.” As for Marcus, he encourages his students to set goals to help them stay motivated and on track.
Time to unroll the mat
It’s never too late to pick up yoga and these days, it’s even easier to start — you can sign up for a group class or follow videos online for self-practice. If you’re new to yoga, both instructors advise starting under the guidance of a teacher or with simple postures and techniques first. “A short practice of 15 to 20 minutes a day yields more results than a long intensive practice of 60 to 90 minutes done many days or weeks apart,” adds Marcus.
Try these simple yoga poses as demonstrated by Marcus or check out YogaSeed’s YouTube channel for more easy-to-follow yoga workouts you can do at home!
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
- Start on all fours, touching the floor and a straight back (Table Top pose).
- Lift your hips up into Downward Facing Dog pose.
- Lift your tailbone up towards the ceiling, while pressing your heels down into the floor.
- Try to keep your knees straight. If this is not possible, bend your knees slightly.
- Keep your back straight at all times.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
Benefits: Brings blood flow to the head, which stimulates the brain. This pose strengthens the heart, builds strength in arms and shoulders, and stretches the back and hamstrings.
Arda Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist Pose)
- Start in a seated position.
- Fold your left leg underneath, with your right leg going over your left leg.
- Hold your right knee to your chest.
- Setting your spine tall and long, twist your body towards the right.
- Bring your left hand over to your right outer thigh, and place your right hand on the floor behind you. Look over your right shoulder.
Benefits: Stretches the lumbar spine, gluteus muscles, and outer thighs. It also massages the inner organs, thus improving digestion. Twisting also improves spinal mobility.
Wendy Chan is the Founder and Programme Director at Yoga Seeds. She picked up yoga and meditation as a tool to help in self-healing and recovery. She has been a yoga teacher for more than 10 years and she looks forward to many more years of teaching and sharing yoga.
Marcus Tam started out as a personal trainer in 2003 but picked up yoga after discovering it complemented his muscle building training. He also noticed its profound effects on his mental well-being and has not looked back since. He has been teaching yoga since 2011.
Both Wendy and Marcus conduct yoga lessons at NUSS. Check out the Society’s website for lesson schedules!