(Theguardian) – I took up ashtanga yoga in 2002, just after the death of my dad. My mum bought me a book token for my birthday and had written “love from Mum – and I’m sure Dad too”.
I wanted this “parting gift” to be something that would help me remember him. I was in Waterstones and a book called Power Yoga by Beryl Bender Birch grabbed my attention immediately. That book changed my life. I’ve not stopped practising yoga since.
There are many forms of yoga, but ashtanga is one of the most physical. It involves a set series of movements – the same every time – which takes just over an hour to complete. (Though some days, if I haven’t got time, I’ll just do what I can.) You’re either holding a posture for five deep breaths, or moving into the next one. That’s what appealed to me about ashtanga: once you start, you move right to the finish.
There are a lot of postures to get through, and it’s quite demanding. I’ve seen gym-oriented people who go to an ashtanga yoga class and are surprised by how physical it is. You’re using all your muscles, including ones you don’t even realise you’ve got. It’s a great way to keep fit. I’m more muscular than I was and so much stronger, especially in my upper body, arms and back.
My workout: ‘Ballet has given me strength’
Ashtanga yoga requires a continuous deep breathing that you maintain all the way through the series; it’s actually more important to maintain that breath than the postures themselves. The spiritual side of yoga can be overemphasised and put people off, but yoga helps clear my mind. Some people can sit and meditate, but that’s not me. I have to have that physical focus to quieten my inner voice. When my husband died in 2008, aged 43, I hit rock bottom. Yoga was the one thing I managed to hold on to. You can feel so distraught, it can drown you. But yoga, having that time to myself, was a way of coping. I’m not fanatical about yoga but I know how much happier I am through doing it.
My weekend workout
How often do you practise? Five times a week.
Pre-ritual? I light a candle and shut my curtains.
Hardest posture? Crab, where you stretch your arms out backwards and land on your palms.
Five ways to get started
1 There are lots of different styles of yoga and, even within each style, every teacher is different. There are plenty of down-to-earth and accessible classes – it’s worth persevering until you find the right one for you.Advertisement
2 The only thing you really need is a mat, so that your hands and feet don’t slip on the floor. You can wear whatever you like as long as it doesn’t restrict your movement – something stretchy is ideal.
3 Yoga is all about conscious breathing, so get familiar with it by placing one hand on your belly, the other on your chest, and focus on taking on slow, deep breaths. Try counting to five as you breathe both in and out.
4 Don’t worry about demanding postures – start simply by trying to stand tall, with your feet under your hips, shoulders down and crown of your head lifted towards the ceiling. Try the breathing exercise as you stand.
5 Yoga isn’t about whether you can touch your toes or how you look in leggings. It’s open to anyone at any time in their lives, for a good stretch, to gain peace of mind, or even to learn tricks. Annie Rice, yoga teacher