Albufeira, Portugal, Well-being, Yoga

Yoga, but not as I know it

Imagine, if you will, your typical yoga class.  Full of beautiful, serene, slim yogis moving seamlessly from posture to posture, a delight to behold.  And then there’s me.  Mid 40’s, a little overweight, huffing and puffing red faced from one posture of torture into the next.  In my head, however, I believe I look like the former typical yogi.

That, for me sums up yoga.  In the same class you will find those that epitomise yoga: those that really want to and are a million miles away; those whose hearts aren’t really in it but think they should do yoga because it will make them less stressed; those who think it’s going to be really easy and want to cry 10 minutes into the class (these tend to be young, and / or male) and those who we all hate (this could just be me) – who turn up for the first time and can get into all the poses with ease.  Every class is normally a mix of the above.  All are welcome and all are encouraged to take from the class what they can and all are reminded that this is a journey.

Imagine then, if you will, this slightly rounded 40 something trying yoga in a foreign country.  Oh yes, this is the situation I found myself in earlier in the week.  Buoyed up with enthusiasm for my new favourite form of exercise I was on a mission to find myself a class in Albufeira.  There aren’t many – certainly not many that are advertised at least – and even fewer that are taught in English.  This was not going to put me off and I thought a yoga class was as good a place as any to master Portuguese – and all the yoga poses have sanskrit names, so how hard could this be.

Off I trotted on a very wet morning (it’s rained A LOT) in Portugal during March, but that’s a whole other matter, to my very first and very last Portuguese yoga class.  It would seem that there is a whole other form of yoga which I have not heard of, until now.  Samkhya yoga – which according to yogajournal.com is ‘an Indian philosophy that defines the language of yoga……. The Samkhya philosophy systematically deciphers every part of our being, from the lowest level of mortal existence to the highest level of eternal consciousness and spirit. The journey through Samkhya unfolds through three processes: reading (comprehending terminology and philosophy), contemplation and meditation (understanding and feeling the philosophy), and yoga practice (applying the philosophy so that our understanding results in authentic experience)’.

It would seem that there are 25 elements to Samkya yoga and it would also seem that the aim is to include all 25 elements into each and every lesson.  And so on a very wet and cold morning in March I found myself sitting cross legged, holding my nose in various different ways whilst breathing, clapping whilst chanting to the accompaniment of jingle bells, holding my arms out to the side and looking at my thumbs without moving my head and meditating.  Eventually we got to the poses, and I was ready – I understood this part – I was back into my comfort zone.  Four poses later and we were back in a seated position giving thanks to the great guru for bestowing this gift of yoga upon us.  At which point, I think I may have lost the plot a little.

I appreciate that I am appearing dismissive of this method of yoga.  I’m a convert to meditation and so understand the benefits of including it, but beyond that I’ll admit I was a bit lost.   It’s a form of yoga I don’t understand, which doesn’t mean it’s in any way lesser to other forms I have tried before, but at this time and place it’s not the right choice for me.  I found myself thinking of reasons to go again, why I should go again as the teacher and the other students were so lovely and so thrilled to have me joining home in their class. Upon further investigation, it would appear that this is the most popular form of yoga in Portugal, this particular teacher is very experienced and her classes are incredibly popular.

My experience has left me quite wary of trying other yoga classes in the area and also with a dilemma – how and where to practice my yoga – at least twice a week whilst I am living in Albufeira.  Imagine, (again), the early morning sun rising on the beach, the waves lapping lightly upon the shore and me effortlessly moving from pose to pose, with people watching in a state of awe.  This is my vision of doing yoga in Portugal.   More realistically, I fear people will find me on my purple mat, trying yoga on a slope struggling to get it flat, still huffing and puffing my way through some poses, getting sand everywhere with a colour on my face that increasingly matches my purple mat.  Either way, it is going to require some planning and research on my part to achieve that aim and I need to step away from classes.

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Mindfulness, Walking, Well-being, Yoga

Mindful Musings

So far, so good!  At the end of three weeks I have successfully completed at least 20 minutes of mindful meditation every day!  Within that I have also attended a mindfulness class and practiced yoga at least 4 times per week.  I’ve also set up a small accountability group to make sure that I maintain the practice.  So far so good!

What I have learned thus far.

  • Primarily, that if I want to do something badly enough I can do it – motivation isn’t an issue.
  • That exercise doesn’t have to be target driven!  Until now my exercise has been based around challenges, distance, or times.  Speed sessions, interval sessions, long runs, tempo runs.  None of that matters with yoga.  Yes, you need to watch your alignment if you want to prevent injury and yes, there is quite a lot of structure to it – but thereafter it’s entirely up to you.  There is no way to measure this week’s performance against last.  Already I can see some improvements in some postures – for the first time in forever I can actually nearly touch my toes!  What a delightful way to be measuring progress!  All that matters is how you feel in your body today and what it can achieve today and if it’s not as good as last week, then never mind!
  • Exercise can be fun!  I tried Zumba this week.  Looking at the range of lessons on at the gym at a suitable time, I was left with the choice of Zumba.  Never been my first choice – obviously being a choice of older ladies.  Oh, how wrong I was.  After 10 minutes I wanted to collapse!  But as with the yoga – there is no target.  I can’t possibly measure my performance this week against that of subsequent weeks – other than will my arms and legs ever be co-ordinated with each other.  One thing I also found at Zumba was normal sized ladies, of a certain age, exercising for fun – followed by a cup of tea and a natter.  I may have finally found my tribe!  And socialising is definitely a key aspect of exercising.  I will definitely be going back again.
  • That I walk much further than I anticipated.  I’ve set myself the challenge of walking 1000 miles during 2018.  I thought I would just count all the steps / miles on my FitBit.  By the end of three weeks I have walked 100 miles.  This would make in the region of 1700 miles in the year,  I either need to just count miles where I deliberately take a walk, or increase my target to make it a challenge.
  • That yoga – or mindfulness meditation – I’m not sure which, gives you energy!  Only a few weeks in I am already feeling more enthusiastic and full of life than I have in many years.  It’s also been surprisingly easy to fit it in to my daily life.  I’ve been using two apps – Headspace which is subscription based, very accessible and very straightforward; and Insight Timer, which has the advantage of being free and has a huge range of different meditations to choose from.
  • That it doesn’t take long to feel the benefits of yoga and / or meditation.  As I started both at pretty much the same time I’m not sure which is the creator of the benefits – but already I creak less when I get out of bed.  Already, I am more aware of my posture when I am walking and sitting.  Already, I am more aware of my surroundings and appreciating them far more.
  • The gym has an empty twilight zone at 8:00 am in the morning. The workers have left and the ladies that lunch have yet to arrive.  It’s just bliss!

pexels-photo-374101.jpegAs part of this journey I have come across a couple of really interesting Mindfulness courses.  The first is Positively Mindful which I have been attending at Breathe Bristol yoga studio.  This is an hourly drop in session with a mixture of meditation and self enquiry.  I’ve also started a more formal Mindfulness living course at My Awareness yoga in Montpelier.  So far I’ve only attended one of nine sessions, so I’m interested to see where that journey will take me.  The key thing I have picked up is that this is a journey – one to be taken at a pace that best benefits me.    In my head I look like a super sleek toned yogi – the reality the image is as far removed from that as it is possible to be – however, already I can see that I have made some progress on postures and this gives me hope.