#360fit: There's more than meets the eye with yoga

With International Yoga Day fast approaching, Sport360's Kara Martin speaks to experts about the unseen health benefits that come with practicing yoga.

Kara Martin
by Kara Martin
16th June 2016

article:16th June 2016

Join the movement: International Day of Yoga is June 21.
Join the movement: International Day of Yoga is June 21.

We have heard all the ‘flowery’ talk about how life-changing yoga can be, but it’s been simpler to ease yoga into the minds of the public by approaching it as a strange form of bodily exercise.

The common understanding in the West is that a regular practice increases flexibility and helps strengthen and lengthen the muscles; but there are so many deeper uses for yoga you’d be shocked to learn if only someone would explain them in simple language.

So here we are, in the wake of the UN-recognised celebration of International Day of Yoga on June 21, chatting to everyday people who have been saved by it time and time again, and urging you to give it at least one go in case you haven’t; to not give up if you hated the first few classes you tried; or, as a veteran, to keep exploring – because the education never ends. A

ll teachers start off as students, and yogini Jacquelene Sadek (www.jeaniqueyogaandpilates.com) has some great stories to share.

She first sought out yoga after suffering from debilitating migraines as a young adult; now, she’s taught for over 16 years and says: “Every day that I teach I feel I am a student exploring this incredible vehicle we call a body. Yoga eliminated my migraines instantly after many years of trying different modalities since prescription drugs never worked and produced other physical problems for me.

“I’ve had many students who told me that they have stopped taking prescription drugs for mental illness (in particular, psychosis) after taking up and committing to a consistent yoga practice,” adds the Dubai resident.

“I have worked with women (seven, actually!) who have had numerous failed attempts at IVF, and after diligently practising yoga (in particular, working on the organs of fertility and their kidneys) have since fallen pregnant naturally.

“One client of mine had cancer three times all by the age of 23 and had gone into early menopause, which created a number of strange autoimmune disorders in her body. After two years’ study with me she reversed these issues and now has the choice to become a mother.”

Ask a student yourself. Abu Dhabi resident Lee Dabagia can’t believe he didn’t try yoga sooner.

“I was an absolute beginner when I met my teacher (Sasha Quince, www.sashaquinceyoga.com),” he says.

“The atmosphere was inviting and safe, it was the perfect place to start. I changed that day.

“As a competitive athlete now in my late 40s, I found myself struggling with back pain and holding on to poor stretching and flexing habits, too. After only a few months of Sasha’s Vinyasa Flow teachings, I’ve strengthened my core, reduced back pain to nothing, while increasing balance and flexibility.”

Dabagia says yoga is also helping him recover from a major life loss, too – “a devastating divorce, as well as self-esteem issues, and so much more,” he says.

“I’ve learned that much of the stress and pressure that limits my physical and conscious world can subside with a focus on breathing, rooting my feet into the earth, and concentrating on engaging my body from fingertips to toes.

“I can walk into a class, full of stress and anxiety from the day and walk out warm, satisfied, and refreshed. Each class is transformational, honestly, and today yoga is such an important part of my life.”

Indeed, Sasha Quince is a favourite teacher amongst Abu Dhabi yogis new and old, and admittedly shares similar stories with her students. She never even imagined that she would be teaching or practising yoga ten years ago.

“Back then I didn’t believe in anything else but the results of hard intensity workouts, but today I can share with all those CrossFitters out there that yoga has helped me gain the deepest core strength than 15 years in the gym ever did.

“As a student in my early days I also never knew that yoga could ease stress instantaneously, increase my metabolism, energise me, heal my heart and help me with grief from a life-changing loss.

“No one should turn down the opportunity to try a class, its super healing powers physically, mentally and emotionally still continue to amaze me.”

Another young student is Andy MacGregor, who started practising yoga 18 months ago solely to increase general flexibility after 20 years of lifting weights in the gym, “and to hopefully help ease the lower back pain I was experiencing fairly frequently,” he says.

“Since then I have not had any lower back pains and feel generally much better all over. Furthermore, it encouraged me to look at diet, I have become more aware of everything I eat now,” adds MacGregor.

“I try and steer away from processed foods and meat as much as possible and eat more vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts. As a result, I’ve lost over 10kg without really trying, plus I have much more energy and need less sleep.”

If you struggle with patience and anger management – and in Dubai’s fast-paced world, we can see how that would be – Noura ElImam (www.yogalatesblissindubai.com) has an answer. It’s yoga.

“Having practised for over 12 years and taught for more than six, I can say that the one aspect of yoga that consistently tests me and where I try to keep raising the bar is in trusting the process when challenges/life’s obstacles come my way.

“It is an unrealistic belief that you can control what in reality you can’t; you can only control your own actions and thoughts, that’s it.

“A simple example is being stuck in traffic with a major appointment to get to. Can you swerve and go down a different lane/road with less traffic? Yes? Do so. If not, then you have pretty much exhausted all resources and you have to trust that you will get there when the time comes without stressing out and, instead, use creative distraction (fire up some good music, check out the colours around you).

“This applies to everything in life from job hunting to family circumstances.”

And then there is the stuff you can learn from the ancient texts too that are actually incredibly relevant to navigating today’s world – like the concept of ‘Ahimsa’.

A once anxiety-riddled Yasmine Orlando (yasmineorlandoyoga.com), talks about her study of it and how it’s made her more respectful of her body inside and out.

“As I learnt about Ahimsa – one of the founding principles of a yoga practice, which translates as ‘non-violence’ (though I broadly translate it as kindness) – I felt a huge sense of relief. Being kind suddenly seemed like the only sensible aim in yoga and in all action and thought.

“Being kind to your body in your yoga practice, being kind in your thoughts about yourself, being kind to others, to the environment, to your belongings…with an attitude of kindness, inner criticism and inner judgement quieten and anxiety eases.”

Ready to do some yoga?