I was swept onto the yoga bandwagon last summer whilst working for a culture magazine. I was researching an article about the capital’s trendiest – and most expensive – fitness classes when I came across a swanky looking gym close to my office. So close, in fact, that I found myself walking into my very first yoga class the next morning before work.
Despite the £10 smoothies, luxury soaps and an intimidating wall of abs on every visible torso, I discovered that yoga itself is modest and inclusive. I continued going to classes in Durham – at affordable if not downright cheap prices – and have since learnt three things they won’t admit in Mayfair:
- You don’t need to be fit, flexible, skinny or strong. Yoga is for everyone.
- You don’t need an expensive yoga mat. At the freshers’ give-it-a-go session last autumn, half of us used towels or hoodies.
- Your practice is a time to focus entirely on you – on your body and how you feel. There is no pressure to compare yourself and your abilities to other people.
So, what’s the substance behind all the hype? Nicole Wong, President of Durham University Yoga and Pilates Society (DUYAPS), explains: “Yoga has become popular because of an increase in everyday stress.” With digital information so constant and so close, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. “We’ve realised that we need to take care of both our physical and mental wellbeing.”
“Yes, yoga is trendy now. But I think it will last because it’s not just an exercise or a fashion; it’s a way of living, a way of seeing the world.”
A singer, dancer and swimmer, Nicole took up yoga as a fresher, with the aim of improving her balance and core strength. But she was surprised to find herself feeling “good mentally” as well. “It can be overwhelming being away from home [for the first time], surrounded by so many new people and situations,” she says. “In class, I can take my mind off things and slow down. Yoga got me through my freshers year.”
Nicole admits that this year will be “tough” for DUYAPS, with strict limitations on class sizes and venues. However, she is committed to “spreading the positivity of the yoga philosophy”, and hopes to run both in-person and online classes and workshops throughout the year.
And yogis have, on the whole, been able to adapt with relative ease to online classes and practicing at home.
“Although you can’t get immediate feedback, YouTube and Zoom classes are accessible and a very good option for practicing from home,” says Nicole. “I think the environment matters more than physically being with a teacher. But you need to make sure there are no distractions. The advantage of an in-person class is that the teacher and the other people around you make sure you stay focused.”
Durham-based yoga teacher Emily, from Emily Charlotte Yoga, agrees.
Emily first began yoga as a student at Northumbria University. She runs classes for DUYAPS, Durham University Student Wellbeing, and Alington House Community Association (on the Bailey).
Because of the lockdown, Emily started teaching classes on Zoom and outdoors. However, she is now back teaching her in-person classes at Alington House. Her Durham University Wellbeing classes, which are free for students, have continued via Zoom throughout the summer holidays.
“There’s an amazing energy in a big class, which can’t be recreated on Zoom,” says Emily. “But the demand for online classes has been massive. Even though my online classes have been donation-based, people are very willing to pay the same amount as they would for an in-person class.”
Emily puts this down to the fact that practicing yoga offers support to people both physically and mentally, no matter where they are or how the class is taught.
“Lockdown brought every part of life together – relaxation, family, work, exercise, study… It’s important to reflect on how we want to interact with other people and the world.”
“Yoga isn’t heavily goal-focused, it is about being present. It is a time to let go of pressures and show kindness to yourself.”
Our need for connection and community was unquestionably highlighted during lockdown. University is a place to find these things. But, this year, it will also be a place of uncertainties. I am sure we will all be bombarded with near-constant news updates, safety notifications and last minute changes. It will be overwhelming and strange at times – but it is during such times that we’ll receive the greatest benefits from yoga.
Both social and reflective in nature, yoga is neatly placed to help us find balance. Of course, if you’re a dedicated yogi, you will already know this. And if you’re not, what’s taken you so long to catch on?
Contacts from this article:
Durham University Yoga and Pilates Society (DUYAPS) can be found on Facebook under the same name.
Durham University Student Wellbeing:
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: Durham University – Student Wellbeing
Emily Charlotte Yoga:
Facebook: Emily Charlotte Yoga
Image: Emily Charlotte Yoga