By Jessica Evans
Yoga has been a feature of Eastern cultures for more than 5000 years and over the last century it has seen a sharp rise in popularity in the West. Now there are an estimated 250 million practitioners of yoga worldwide, attracted by the discipline’s holistic approach to attaining physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Kim Lien runs UCU’s weekly drop-in classes on Tuesday afternoons. She claims that true happiness can only be achieved once one learns to love one’s body and that the yoga philosophy may help foster such a relationship. The class is continually reminded that they are not expected to display perfect flexibility; rather they must listen to their bodies’ limits because, as she explains, ‘each muscle is different, and every day is different’.
We begin by sitting back-to-back in pairs. With each inhalation our spines lightly arch and press against one another, our shoulders softly rising and falling, and our stomachs grow round with air. A gentle voice guides us to feel each breath, and that of our partner’s, with our entire bodies. We must forget about all the worries we are holding on to and all the assignments still to complete. We must focus on this moment, here and now. Gradually me, my partner, the whole class, we realize a mutual rhythm and our breathing becomes slower and deeper. I feel as though I could drift into sleep.
This slowing of one’s breath and heart rate has plentiful health benefits too. It is the reason yoga has been accredited for relieving afflictions such as asthma, high blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia. Nevertheless it would be misguided to think of yoga as simply a set of soporific breathing exercises. Some positions strongly engage a set of muscles, for example the wide lunges we must hold whilst stretching our spines and fingers to the ceiling. It is poses such as these that make yoga an effective means for improving muscle tone, stamina, posture and balance as well.
Yet perhaps the most significant benefit is psychological. When was the last time you felt thoroughly content with your surroundings and within yourself? Yoga increases bodily awareness and thereby enhances one’s general sense of wellbeing. Just as Kim contended, I leave the session feeling grounded and balanced. I can appreciate the strength and flexibility of my muscles and the value of good posture. My mind is calm and clear. An air of serenity lingers on far after the session has ended and for the rest of the week I await the next class. I have been thoroughly converted.
DanceCo organises yoga lessons 15:30-16:30 every Tuesday in the meditation room. Missed the first few weeks? You can join at any time during the semester.
For those itching to get out of ‘the bubble’, there are daily classes for all different types of yoga at Yoga Moves, St. Janshovenstraat 1.