Incorporating some Zen into your fitness routine

Are you looking for a way to add more Zen to your fitness routine? Then maybe yoga is for you?


Did you know that yoga has been around for thousands of years? It was first designed as a path to spiritual enlightenment. Today, yoga has found huge popularity as a gentle form of exercise and stress management.


Diabetes Queensland's exercise physiologist Kristen Clark is a keen yogi (the name for someone who practices yoga) and started practising nearly 15 years ago. Kristen chats to us about why she loves it so much and what keeps her going back for more.


When did you start yoga?

"I started yoga many years ago when it was offered in my workplace. I had always thought yoga was just about stretching and balance. It wasn't until I tried my first class that I found out it was much more.


What type of yoga do you do?

"The first class I tried was an Iyengar class (Iyengar yoga uses props like blocks and straps to help you to get into the pose and achieve correct alignment). After I started to learn the basics and became familiar with the poses, I started trying a few other styles to see which I liked the most. I have probably practised Vinyasa yoga the longest (Vinyasa is an active style of yoga that focuses on moving with breath). I really enjoy the flow of a Vinyasa class and moving with my breath. However I've recently started practising a few Yin yoga classes (Yin yoga is a slow-paced yoga. Poses are held for longer periods of time to help you relax into the pose and go a little deeper). I think it is good to mix it up and do a slower class and really get into the deep stretch. You can feel your muscles lengthening, it's a lovely feeling.


There are many other types of yoga - I'm pretty sure I've tried them all at some stage. The other types you might hear about include:


  • Ashtanga: is based in six series of poses. Students work at their own pace, progressing through to the next series. Ashtanga classes are generally taught using Sanskrit - the traditional language of yoga.
  • Power: is a type of Vinyasa yoga. It is a challenge class where the poses are sequenced to create heat in the body.
  • Bikram: is a modern form of yoga done in a room set at 40 degrees, which is meant to replicate the temperature in India - where yoga began. It's a strong class which works through a sequence of set yoga and breathing poses. 
  • Hatha: is a general category that includes most styles of yoga. It is generally used to describe a class that will be relatively gentle, slow and great for beginners.


The good news is that, whatever your interests, level of fitness or experience with yoga, there is an option that will be suited to you.


Why do you love most about yoga?

"I really enjoy the movement during the class. I know I am stronger and more flexible as a result of yoga. I also love that after practising yoga for 15 years, there are still poses and sequences that I haven't done before. Each class is different, and I am constantly learning.


However, what I love most about yoga is how I feel once I have completed a class. I feel a little tired from the movement, but I feel relaxed and calm. Savasana is the final pose, and definitely my favourite (Savasana is the resting pose at the end of the class that helps restore the body after the practise).


What benefits have you seen from practising yoga?

"As I mentioned earlier, I am definitely more flexible, and flexibility is something that doesn't come easy for me. But I can see myself getting better which is really encouraging.


I also notice my strength and my balance - I can hold poses for longer and challenge myself with harder poses.


Plus I know that I am helping my bone strength, my digestive system and my circulatory system.


Lastly, I tend to sleep better after a yoga class. I'm physically tired from the class, but mentally I am relaxed and calm. Yoga definitely helps me to get to sleep quicker, but I also feel like I get a better night's sleep when I have practised that day.


What would you recommend to new comers?

"I would suggest looking for a hatha class or an Iyengar class. These classes will start you off slowly and teach you the foundations.


I would also suggest you get a good, non-slip mat as you'll use it all the time.


Lastly, have fun! Yoga can be heaps of fun, especially when you are learning."


Things to remember:

  • See your doctor for a check-up to assess your fitness level before taking up a new exercise program.
  • Find a properly trained and qualified yoga instructor, and one that has lots of experience.