Alternative London Workouts #15: Ashtanga Yoga

By Londonist Last edited 161 months ago

Last Updated 02 February 2011

Alternative London Workouts #15: Ashtanga Yoga

A personal guest post from The Barnet Eye Blogger, Rog T, flexing his writing muscles over something other than Barnet, with the intention of encouraging you to flex your actual muscles, Ashtanga Yoga style. How did he get into it? Read on...

About four years ago, a back injury resulting from a car accident reached a peak of pain. An MRI scan showed a stress fracture. The hospital told me that people usually die when a car hits them at this speed (40 mph), so I suppose it was a result of sorts to just be alive. I asked what could be done? An operation and 12 weeks on my back was the answer. Other options? "Well you could try a bit of physio and lose some weight, but it probably won't do any good. Most people with your condition are begging for the op".

Sadly I couldn't afford that. If I don't work, I don't get paid. A trip to the physio gave some relief and I enrolled in a gym and went almost daily. Whilst I could manage a traditional gym workout for most of the week, by the end it was too much. That was when I noticed an Ashtanga Yoga class at my gym...

What?: Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures - a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that is said to detoxify muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.

The Rundown: Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic and movement-based form of yoga. I'd actually done Yoga for a while in the 1980's at a local council class. I'd been the only bloke and the youngest by about 30 years. I enjoyed it and only stopped because the council closed the centre. When I saw an Ashtanga Yoga class at the gym, I thought I'd check it out, not realising it is a very different form from what I'd done before.

Whereas the classes I'd done before were relaxed and leisurely, this was different. Ashtanga Yoga is about movement and breathing. After 15 minutes, you have built up your body heat and by the end of the class, you've probably worked every muscle in your body. The last five minutes are relaxation. The class I do is from 12.45 to 1.45pm and at the end of it I always feel charged with energy. Given that I usually enter creaking with pain from the previous night's football, it is a great feeling.

Is it for me? Interestingly, I read that Manchester United's Ryan Giggs also practices yoga and attributes his extended playing career partially to this. There are many benefits for me - the greatest is that it has kept the back pain in check. I feel that the increased flexibility and awareness has unexpectedly helped my football! It has most certainly helped keep me sane in a sometimes crazy city.

I have taken to checking my heartrate before and after the class and it is always lower at the end. Our original teacher Greg moved back to New Zealand this time last year. He was replaced by Annabel Chown, who also teaches at Alchemy and Evolve yoga centres. It is interesting to contrast the styles of the different teachers. Although I was sorry to see Greg go, Annabel's approach has brought new and different challenges and benefits.

I still struggle with many of the poses, years of football have made many off limits with my dodgy knees. The great thing about yoga is that you can do it to your own level and age, and gender is no barrier. Our class has a pretty even distribution of ages and sexes.

Talking to people, it is clear to me that there are many preconceptions about who does yoga and who can benefit. I'd recommend it for everyone. Friday lunch used to be a time for a beer or a curry when I started my career. I now look forward to the class with the same passion. My only regret is that I didn't find out about it earlier. If you want to get into shape, get a bit fitter or just de-stress and stay sane, give it a go.

Where: Try Alchemy, Topnotch, Evolve Movement.

Check out more Alternative London Workouts. Suggest something for the series! Email [email protected].

Rog usually blogs about local politics in Barnet.