In the spirit of International Yoga Day, we at Health Travel wish to celebrate each unique yoga journey. Sharing her own experiences in yoga practice and teaching, our travel specialist Shana offers insight into why yoga is for everyone and every body.
Yoga after an injury
My personal yoga journey began after a knee injury stopped me in my tracks. I was always physically active, so losing the ability to surf, hike or dance without fear of injury was difficult to cope with. After a slow recovery I joined a local gym that offered yoga classes, initially with the intention of maximising flexibility. Assuming this was the sole purpose of yoga, I would spend each class pulling my limbs into any shape I could manage, without any consideration of what my body was trying to tell me.
I had fallen in love with the physical practice, and yet didn’t understand it. Connecting movement the breath was an alien concept, but nevertheless, this introduction had given back some control over my body – I just needed to listen to it.
Yoga teacher training and retreats in India
As my interests grew, so did the desire for deeper understanding. My curiosity brought me to India where I travelled to Rishikesh – known as the birthplace of yoga. I joined an ashram for yoga teacher training and spent a month studying the asanas (yoga poses), pranayama (breathing) anatomy and philosophy.
This trip turned out to be one of the most profound experiences of my life. I began to slow down, listen and connect to myself and the world around me. Of course, strength, flexibility and balance came with the daily practice, but these physical benefits only scrape the surface – the mental, spiritual and emotional elements that yoga taps into are equally as important.
I’m a firm believer that exploring new destinations supports reconnection with yourself, others and the world around you. The new sights, smells and experiences reawaken and inspire positive change back home.
The evolution of yoga practice
During the pandemic, I then began teaching online classes, and in turn, my own practice evolved. Maintaining full awareness of isolated movement offered new insight into the mind and body, meanwhile the spiritual connection felt like fuel for the soul. Regardless of how much energy you exert, all that matters is showing up and dedicating that time to yourself on the mat.
Each yoga journey is personal and will develop in its own unique way over time. The initial assumption that yoga was about being flexible was where mine began. Now, this holistic practice has become deeply engrained into day-to-day living. From celebrating the body through movement to simply focusing on the rise and fall of the breath in times of stress, I am ever grateful for where my experience continues to take me.
Yoga for beginners
For anyone who has never tried yoga, I encourage you to give it a go. The practice takes many forms, so do your research and find a class (hatha, vinyasa, yin, ashtanga) and teacher (yes, even the teachers have so many different styles) that is right for you.
If you have been practicing yoga for a while and ready to take the next step with developing your practice, then travelling overseas for a yoga retreat or wellness holiday can greatly enrich the experience. There are some amazing trips to choose from, from wine and wellness pairings in Portugal and spiritual retreats in Italy to retreats in India where tradition meets modern luxury, such as Ananda in the Himalayas.
Common concerns about starting yoga
If you’re new to yoga and unsure whether it is for you, then continue reading some of the common hesitations of people who have never tried yoga. It might just give you the confidence you need to give it a try – you can thank me later.
‘I’m not flexible enough for yoga’
Flexibility is a journey, not a destination. Each yoga pose will have a wide spectrum of variations, so whether you can bend like a pretzel or can’t reach down to touch your toes, you will be gaining the same level of benefit from the stretch you do.
‘You have to be athletic to do yoga’
Absolutely not. Whether you’re old, young, overweight, fit, injured or healthy – if you have a body, then you can do yoga. The point is not to turn yourself into a contortionist, it’s about deep connection to yourself. It can be a fantastic form of exercise and it can be about finding stillness and inner peace. There’s plenty of types of classes to suit everyone’s needs. If you have health concerns, consult a doctor in advance.
‘When I exercise, I like to feel like I’ve had a workout’
Dynamic classes such as power vinyasa and ashtanga are great for cardio, strength and flexibility – a great way to break a sweat too.
‘My long-term injury prevents me from being active’
When trying a pose that could affect an old injury, then ask your teacher for support – they may provide you with props is necessary or offer an alternative. It’s important to listen to your body and not push it to its limit. If you feel uncomfortable in a pose, then safely exit and enter a recovery position (e.g. child’s pose).
‘I can’t meditate – my mind has too many thoughts’
If your mind is overrun with too many thoughts, then that’s even more reason to try it. Meditation isn’t about emptying the mind of all thoughts, nor is it about controlling them. This answer could be a full blog in itself, but to keep it short, through meditation you are giving your ‘monkey mind’ a job through a point of focus (i.e. the breath) to increase awareness of your own thoughts and reduce stress. If you find you mind wandering, then that’s a part of the journey.
‘I feel awkward chanting’
There’s something powerful about the vibrations of a chorus of voices chanting ‘Aum’ together, but for someone new to yoga, this can feel weird, and for some, a little daunting to try. Not all classes will have mantras incorporated, but if it does, then embrace it! Perhaps stay silent and listen in until you eventually get to a stage (whether that be one or nine classes) that you feel comfortable and ready to join in.
To start planning your luxury yoga retreat or wellness holiday, speak to our travel experts for guidance on destinations, hotels and programmes that are right for you.