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Getting started with yoga

Yoga can be a revitalising way to stretch out and engage your body – and it doesn't have to be so serious. Yoga teacher Mirinda Smith shares some advice for beginners.

Yoga fitness with funny pet concept. Young woman practicing yoga, doing forward bend exercise, head to knees uttanasana pose, working out wearing sportswear grey pants, home interior, cute cat playing

Yoga has so many benefits for our mind and body. What are the best things you take from the practice?

There are so many benefits to yoga, such as toned, stronger arms, more flexible hamstrings and less tense shoulders, but all of that is just an introduction into the life enhancing effects yoga can bring us.

One of the best benefits of yoga is that it helps us gain perspective and gives us the tools and strength to be able to choose how we react to situations. It teaches us how to breathe, to be still and to remember that everything we think we need is already within. A regular practice can help you tap into your truth, guide you and provide clarity.

For some people, yoga can feel quite serious and a bit intimidating. How can you make a yoga practice more fun, open and playful?

It is up to you and how you approach it. I believe there is a difference between respecting something and taking it too seriously. I find the best way is to go into each class with an open mind knowing that if you ‘can’t’ do a certain pose it doesn’t matter. Yoga is a journey and every class is different.

Sometimes you might cry, sometimes you might laugh and sometimes you might really challenge your muscles. It’s important to learn to laugh at yourself if you fall and have a giggle if you can’t get into that pose that everyone else can.

Getting to know your teacher is another way to feel more open in class. Have a chat to them before or after class, and don’t feel intimidated.

How can yoga beginners feel more comfortable getting started?

As a beginner, always try to chat with your teacher before or after class. Let them know you are just starting out, and get to know them a little so you can create some familiarity. Be willing to try a bunch of different teachers and studios too, because there are loads of wonderful yoga styles to choose from. If at first you’re not loving the vibe, just move on to the next. There is a style of yoga out there for everyone.

When I first started practicing yoga, I used to always set my mat up at the back of the class and it was my comfort zone for a long time. It’s a great spot to learn and watch others, but I always recommend students to move forward once they feel comfortable and confident, so they can continue to grow in their practice.

I truly believe the most important thing you can do to get comfortable is accept that you are a beginner, so have a beginner’s open mind. Accept that it will be a journey and it will take time until you learn all the basics. Treat yourself like an innocent child with patience and kindness as you learn and grow, and don’t feel disheartened if you ever struggle – it’s all part of the process.

Yoga can be an excellent way to relax and wind down, but it can also be energising. How can yoga help you feel more revitalised in your day?

Yoga is incredible for rejuvenating and revitalising our bodies and minds. As yoga is basically a moving mediation, it gives our minds the opportunity to find a one pointed focus (the poses, the breath) and to find moments of stillness while we move our bodies. This leaves little space for all those distracting and busy thoughts. As it turns out, our monkey minds – our endless, random thoughts – are often what exhaust us the most.

We are also physically moving, therefore stimulating and releasing blocked energy, tension and stress that has been stored in the body, leaving you feeling lighter and open.

Then there is the breath, possibly our most effective and free tool to manage stress, anxiety and pretty much every other intense emotion. In yoga we create deep, full body breaths which work to calm our nervous system. That means even when we are doing physically challenging poses which can elevate our heart rates a little and stimulate endorphins (the happy energising hormone we get from physical exercise), our breath guides us back to that calm state.

To top it off, each yoga class finishes with relaxation (‘savasana’) – a time when you are totally chilled out, in your complete natural state in pure stillness, allowing you the space to absorb the energy and replenish yourself with a final meditation.

Try yoga with Mirinda at Sydney’s OM Collective

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