Exercise amid lockdown: Understanding the multi-facets of yoga

Eman Youssef, Sunday 10 May 2020

Yoga instructor and radio presenter Sarah Abdel Moneim talks about the key benefits for the mind and body of yoga practice

 understanding multifacets of Yoga

Ahram Online: How can yoga help the health of both our minds and bodies?

Sarah Abdel Moneim: Yoga is a great healer to both the mind and the body. I was never an athletic person before yoga, but when I started doing yoga back in 2015, I found that my body was transforming. I started becoming stronger and very flexible. Yoga has a great impact on breathing, the strength of muscles and flexibility in both muscles and in connective tissues. 

Yoga has great benefits on the cardiovascular system, on the joints, the spine and more. The real magic, though, is in the mind, as yoga teaches you how to calm your thoughts and focus on your breath. It also teaches you how to learn that the real reason behind our anxiety and most of the issues we face is simply the thoughts that our minds create, whether sadness or regret, over the past or fears and worries about the future. Yoga helps us to focus on your present moment and therefore has a significant positive effect on the emotions, insomnia, anxiety and depression. 

AO:How long does it take to reach an advanced level in yoga? 

SA: It really depends on your frequency of practice. For example, if you practice every day, you can immediately see an impact on your whole body and mind in a few months. The most important thing about yoga is not to focus on being able to create all those impressive looking shapes, but rather focus on taking it one step at a time. “Practice and all is coming.”

AO: What training courses did you take to become a yoga instructor? 

SA: At first I completed my 200-hour Vinyasa yoga teacher training course in a school in Bali called Yoga Union in 2018. Then I was recruited by the school to teach other students coming for teacher training there. I spent almost a year in Bali teaching. Then I went to India to complete my yoga education and finished my 300 hours in both Vinyasa and Yin yoga. I continued to take other courses to gain more knowledge and experience, like a 50-hour Budokon Yoga training in Germany. I started teaching in Egypt in many studios in 2019.

AO: Is yoga suitable for everyone? 

SA: Yoga can be adjusted to any age and all kinds of bodies. There are many types of yoga. For example, restorative Yoga could be a great for older people. Yoga for children can really help their mood, breathing and physical development. You can also do it in a fun way by using animal names in the poses. As for pregnant women, there are prenatal classes that could be gentle and perfect for the body. There are other types of yoga that are good for athletes to help compliment their other workouts. You can also do a very athletic kind of yoga to build muscles and strength. Concerning the level of difficulty, it depends on which type you practice. It could be extremely difficult if you are trying to do handstands and walk on your hands, but can be very easy if you are doing Yin or Restorative yoga. Yoga is for all ages and for both men and women.

AO:What are the main reasons people take up yoga? 

SA: People come to yoga classes for many reasons. Some come to be stronger, while others come to work on their breath, to calm down, increase flexibility and be emotionally healthy. 

Yoga balances hormones and elevates the mood, so that is another reason to do yoga. Fun is another factor. You can have so much fun in your yoga practice and it creates a great healthy community of students that also connect with each other all over the world.

AO:How can yoga help during this difficult time of the coronavirus pandemic? 

SA: Yoga was my savior during the pandemic because  it gave me the ability to move my body and exercise without the need for a lot of tools or equipment. All you need is a mat, or a thick carpet for your knees, an open mind and a good online class. So your body is getting the exercise it needs while staying home and not having the opportunity to move as much as you used to. 

Yoga helps you meditate, gain perspective and not allow your mind to be anxious with all the news you are receiving and all the changes that are happening around you in the world. 

Most importantly, yoga brings people together at a time when we are all isolated, whether through teaching online or practicing to connect with many people that I do not know or have not seen in a very long time all over the world. We all came together in our love for yoga.

AO: How has yoga developed over the years? 

SA: Yoga started in India thousands of years ago. The practice initially was not focused on the body as it is today, but rather on the mind. Yoga sutras were written by a man called Patanjali. He identified eight limbs or corners of yoga; only one of them was about the body. The first corner or limb was actually focused on your attitude towards others. The second was your attitude towards yourself. The third was about having a healthy body to be able to sit for a long time in meditation. The fourth was about the breath. And then the last four were focused on meditation and connecting with your true self. 

A man named Krishnamacharya is actually the first person known to introduce modern day yoga as we know it now. He first started teaching it to royalty and then other students. He then had two of his students,  Iyengar and Pattabhi Joyce, spread yoga in Europe and the United States respectively. In the United States, yoga became popular as famous celebrities like Madonna and Sting started practicing Ashtanga Yoga. Over time it developed to what it is today.

AO: What is the difference between Aerial and Acro yoga? 

SA: Both are basically yoga infused with acrobatics. They are relatively recent. Aerial yoga uses aerial silks; they hold the body away from the ground to work against gravity. You can practice it on your own. As for Acro yoga, it is a partner or group yoga, where you also work against gravity by forming shapes and holding people up in acrobatic movements.

AO: Yoga has a great impact on blood circulation. Can this affect appearance and beauty? 

SA: In my opinion, beauty is more enhanced by the inner impact that yoga gives you, including peace and happiness. However, just like any physical practice, yoga boosts your circulation and hence affects your overall wellbeing. It also can have a great impact on detoxification of the body, so will eventually affect all your body functions, including skin.

AO:How can yoga help reduce stress and anxiety? 

SA: Yoga can definitely be your number one solution to reducing stress and anxiety. By focusing on breathing, and calming your mind, it teaches you not to give in to immediate reactions or responses to external stimuli, but rather take the time to settle, breathe, and be positive.

AO: What are the common kinds of yoga? 

SA: The most common kinds of yoga are Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Yin and Hatha, but there are so many others.  

AO: How many times per week should one practice yoga? 

SA: At first, start with at least once a week. Three times a week is optimum, but six days a week is for those who really want to focus on their yoga practice. You should have no pressure because Yoga is about relieving pressure. So it is important not to forget that when planning your schedule. 

AO: Who are your favourite role models in yoga? 

SA: There are so many great teachers that you can learn many things from. Ourania Bouzoki from Greece is definitely one of my biggest role models, as she was my teacher and guided me into becoming a teacher. Also Savvas Giantis from Greece as well. There are also Mariam Bakry and Adell Bridges.

AO: What are the main techniques of yoga? 

SA: The main techniques of yoga are focusing on the breath, moving with control, and doing every pose with mindfulness.

AO: When is the best time of day to practice? 

SA: Traditionally, in India, yoga is practiced as soon as you wake up. Especially for the kinds of yoga that are like Ashtanga, that are a bit more intense. Starting your day with yoga practice helps set the mood for the rest of the day, giving you the right energy levels and clarity of mind. 

Doing yoga at night is usually recommended if you are doing a calming kind of yoga such as Yin or Restorative. It helps you to calm the mind after a long day and also release any stress or tension of the day so you can sleep better. I always did yoga after work because it helped me release any anxiety or worries. 

As for food, I recommend to eat at least an hour and a half to two hours before you do an intense yoga practice.

AO: What is your advice for beginners? 

SA: I advise beginners not to judge themselves. Be kind to your body. Enjoy the journey, do not think about the endgame, and allow time to open up your body and mind.
Yoga makes you progress really fast. Also, if you tried once and did not like it, try a different teacher and try again. 

Do not forget to focus on your breath and do not be in a hurry to reach a higher level.  

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