In recent years, the popularity of yoga among professional athletes has exploded, with advocates such as Ryan Giggs, Tom Brady and LeBron James bringing it into the sporting mainstream. These superstars laud the benefits, claiming it helps prevent injuries and improve performance.
But what about the amateurs? Can practicing yoga really help a casual, slightly unfit, sportsman, who occasionally runs and plays the odd game of five-a-side or squash?
With the help of Talise Fitness and Talise Spa, Sport360 decided to find out. The premise was simple, undertake a month of yoga sessions – at least four per week – and discover if there were really any tangible benefits to the popular pastime.
With previous yoga experience amounting to one class in a sweaty London studio and another at Talise’s Rooftop Yoga – great view but inflexibility proved a major sticking point – the inaugural class at Madinat Jumeirah was approached with some trepidation.
Fortunately, Hatha yoga provides a friendly entry point for inexperienced Yogis like me – the sort of person who thought asana was something you needed an inhaler for and Om was a statement of oral uncertainty. (For the record, asana are poses or stretches and Om is a meditative chant).
The location helps, too. On the pristine beach of Madinat Jumeirah, in the shadow of the iconic Burj Al Arab, there can genuinely be few better spots in the world to practice yoga. The gentle sea breeze is manna from yoga heaven as without it, the Dubai summer can give bikram (hot) studios a run for their money.
From downward dog to snake pose, it felt a little like I was learning the signs of the Chinese Zodiac in week one but there was no question that each new position stretched muscles that hadn’t been used for some time, perhaps ever. By the end of the first week I was definitely looser, but compared to others in the class still about as supple as a supporting beam at the Burj Khalifa.
Yoga is definitely more popular with women than men but there is still a place for us. After a week of being the anomaly in my classes, it was reassuring to see another male. We formed an immediate unspoken bond when the ladies around us were locked into the camel pose – arms bent back, clutching ankles.
A few knowing looks of ‘seriously, how are we supposed to do that’ were exchanged and continued throughout our sessions together. While a number of positions were still beyond me, week two brought a notable improvement in flexibility to celebrate.
Early nineties pop sensation Chesney Hawkes is performing in Dubai this weekend and the last time I could touch my toes was probably when ‘The One And Only’ was first released.
At the end of the week, when my fingertips made contact with the floor for the first time in two decades, it was a mightily satisfying feeling.
Stretching is a central part of yoga, the twists and contortions often uncomfortable but leaving practitioners bathing in an afterglow of limberness.
But beyond that, it is also about controlling breathing and trying to relax. The breathing part can be difficult when you’re straining every sinew during sun salutations (a series of poses, kind of like a choreographed solar slow-dance) but it gets easier with practice and also helps deepen stretches.
At the end of each session comes the highlight, though. Shavasana is a position in which everything feels right with the world. Lying on your back, legs akimbo, palms to the sky – it is 5-10 minutes of total calm.
The physical aches and pains melt away and the worries of the week do the same. No Sheikh Zayed Road traffic, no work anxieties, just blissful tranquility.
One of the best bits about Talise Spa’s yoga is the chap standing at the front of the class. The Shavasna relaxation, the gentle murmur of jet skis in the distance and the waves of the Arabian Gulf lapping up against the shore are great. But nothing beats the dulcet tones of Vijay.
An encouraging instructor makes a real difference and every time Vijay told me to hold a stretch for that bit longer with those immortal words “a Yogi never gives up”, I really wanted to do it for him.
He was the Carlo Ancelotti of yoga instructors, with his friendly demeanour and innate ability to motivate. Another favourite remark was “everyone is advanced today” which always raised a smile.
After a month, I’m not sure if I’ve found my inner peace yet but at least I’m not in pieces; feeling calmer and more flexible, the attraction of yoga has certainly become obvious. Vijay, I’ll miss you.
Talise Spa at Madinat Jumeirah are offering unlimited yoga for a month for just 500 AED until September 30.
What: Month-long yoga programme
Where: Talise Spa, Madinat Jumeirah
How much: 500 AED for unlimited Yoga
Verdict: Perfect way to become more calm and flexible.
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