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Is yoga your ticket to wellness in the post-pandemic future? Elizabeth Jerabek talks to some local yogis to find out

PHOTOS BY Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com

With the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in Hong Kong, and the possibility of life returning to some sort of normality in the near future, many of us are looking to get our groove back. There’s no time like the present to mend our sedentary ways and rebuild a healthy, physically active lifestyle. The question is, how? Head back to the gym to pound the treadmill? Sign up for Bootcamp, maybe? Or is it finally time to embrace yoga?

Why yoga? Well for a start, it makes you calmer, bendier and stronger. It also increases wellbeing, and that includes better sleep, better body awareness, weight loss and greater happiness. Need another reason to get on the mat? Yoga may even slow the ageing process.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
You need to take it easy with any form of exercise in the beginning, particularly if you’re working your way back to fitness after taking some time off. “It’s important to listen to your body,” opens yoga enthusiast and co-founder of Escapade Sports, Stefanie Hemshall. “And if you are new to yoga and see everyone doing difficult looking poses around you, it should not frustrate you. Some body types are naturally more flexible than others.

“I prefer a slower form of yoga so that I have enough time to get the pose right,” Stefanie adds. “I’m very flexible in my hips and I love poses which are good for this area. But on the other hand, I have to work harder on the poses that are good for strength training.”

COVID-19 or no COVID-19, it’s still helpful to have the option to work out at home – something Stefanie says is easy to achieve with yoga. “The space requirement is not a lot, basically just as big as your (non-slip) yoga mat,” she notes. “I roll mine up and keep it behind the bedroom door after my practice. I also have a yoga block at home as I like to sometimes use it for back stretching exercises. I keep the block – and a kettlebell – in our living room. I think it looks OK to have it visible, and then it is more likely to be used.”

GO WITH THE FLOW
Like all of us, navigating the ups and downs of the last year has been hard for ChauKei Ngai, founder of the YogaUP studio in DB North Plaza. “Many of us feel stressed by how much in our life feels beyond our control,” she says. “But that stress is a signal from your body that lets you know that you need to take action and do something.

“Sometimes I don’t want to practice. I just want to sit on the couch and eat junk food. And it takes a lot to overcome that inertia and get started again,” ChauKei adds. “But I know that once I get started, I will have already done the hardest part. And the longer I wait to start, the harder it will be. So I’ve just got to get on the mat and do it.”

YOGA GEAR 101
Smart tips from Shakeel Nawaz, director of retail operations at Escapade Sports
1. Avoid sticky PVC yoga mats – choose a non-slip, closed-cell rubber mat with a raised, tactile pattern. If you sweat a lot during yoga, place a towel – with a grippy underlay – on top of your mat
2. To clean your mat: Use a pH-balanced hand soap and water solution, or a dedicated mat santiser spray to wipe the surface clean. Leave to air dry
3. Look for lightweight, breathable yoga wear with a good amount of stretch, and make sure it will give you sufficient coverage
4. To wash yoga wear: Use a dedicated liquid detergent with a biodegradable formula. Soap and residue-free detergents help prevent bacterial growth when clothes get sweaty

Of course, if you’re new to yoga or it’s been a while since your last class, it makes sense to start gently – as always, listen to your body. But, counterintuitively, ChauKei also recommends trying an energetic, flow-based yoga class because of the motivational energy created by a group moving together.

“You can get all the physical benefits from taking an online yoga class at home,” says ChauKei. “But it is harder to find and experience the ‘yoga high’ that comes from a shared practice with others. If you’re trying to get motivated, it might help to jump back in again with a flow-based class because you can tune into the energy of the group, which can inspire you to keep practicing.”

In addition to the buzz of the yoga high, yoga also, of course, delivers a sense of calm – it brings us down to earth, in a good way. “After a year of everything changing all the time, people are now more aware of the way yoga can ground them to provide stability when it feels like the rules are different every day,” says ChauKai. “For a lot of people, it’s not about floating up into the handstand anymore but instead feeling rooted to the earth.”

STRETCH WITH INTENTION
As the founders of the wellness platform Yogika, DB residents Evy and Jorge Best know a thing or two about restoring balance to the body, mind and soul. Yogika offers Kundalini yoga, gong sessions, meditation and a newly introduced detox programme of cold-pressed juices.

From the Sanskrit word for ‘coiled snake,’ Kundalini yoga works to connect us with the energy rooted at the base of our spines. “Together with meditation, practicing Kundalini yoga helps you to become aware of the geometry of your body, and also to see how your yoga practice affects your energy and emotions,” says Evy. “In our practice the intention has more weight than the action. For instance, it’s OK if you can’t stretch very much, the simple intention of stretching consciously affects your brain as well as your muscle system.

“After stretching you will find yourself ready to rethink situations and decisions that may have been cloudy earlier”
— EVY BEST

“As you stretch with intention, your body releases hormones that help regulate your emotions, which contributes to a clearer mind and a more cheerful mood. After stretching, you will find yourself ready to rethink situations and decisions that may have been cloudy earlier. Stretching also improves balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength,” Evy adds.

Ultimately, your wellbeing comes down to mental and emotional fitness, as well as physical fitness. So, in addition to practicing Kundalini yoga, Evy and Jorge recommend you try a gong bath, which uses the immersive sound of the gong as a healing meditation technique.

“The gong is the primal sound of the universe; it can be viewed as a form of meditation that’s accessible to everyone,” says Jorge. “Participants start by chanting a mantra or following a basic breathing exercise for a few minutes to relax. Then they lay down comfortably on the mat under a blanket and the sound of the gong is gradually introduced and the vibrations of the gong are absorbed throughout the entire body.

“Gong baths are often described as having transformational effects on body, mind and spirit. The best way to understand is to experience it,” Jorge concludes. We can all say, Om to that.

Escapade Sportsescapade.com.hk

YogaUPwwww.facebook.com/yogaUPhk

Yogikawww.Facebook.com/Yogikahk

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