As part of our Focus on Fitness campaign we’ve decided to take a look at some of the popular fitness classes and some of the lesser known fitness classes you never knew you wanted to do… until now!
We decided to quiz the people in the know to find out the ins and outs of your next favourite fitness class.
We want you to be brave! Make 2018 the year where you try something new.
Zoe Woodward possibly isn’t the archetypal yoga instructor. She’s a former business manager and mum of four with a love for health and fitness. But crucially, Zoe used to be of the opinion that yoga wasn’t all that effective. But her life completely changed when she discovered the joys of mindfulness and balance.
Zoe led a very hectic and demanding life back in the day. She held down a high-profile job and ran a busy family home — all whilst finding the time to stay fit and active. Zoe enjoyed swimming, weightlifting, gymnastics and lots of cardio, but she struggled to find the time to simply take stock.
Everything changed for Zoe when she happened upon a challenge on social media. The challenge involved several yoga-inspired exercises and stretches, and Zoe was adamant she would be able to perform them with ease. “Why shouldn’t I be able to do that?” she asked herself. Of course, Zoe soon realised that this ancient practice of creating harmony between the mind and body wasn’t as easy as it looked.
She said: “I researched yoga on the Internet and watched several videos on YouTube. I soon realised that it wasn’t just a series of exercises. I discovered that yoga isn’t just about the physical; it’s about the spiritual too.
“I was fascinated about the ideas behind yoga. I wanted to learn more about breathing, bringing balance to the body and mind and clearing your thoughts. And before long, I realised that yoga could help me escape real life for short periods of time.
“It wasn’t until I discovered yoga that I realised that I never, ever switched off. I just never stopped. All of a sudden, I could lose myself on a small mat for at least an hour a week. That was a big realisation for me.”
What is yoga?
Yoga is a collection of Hindu disciplines that combine to promote balance and mindfulness. Although there are various versions around, the basic principles involve breath control, meditation and specific body postures — some of which are very demanding on the body.
How flexible do I need to be?
A high level of flexibility and general body strength is required to perform the most advanced and challenging postures. However, Zoe is keen to stress that many of her followers concentrate more on the breathing and meditation elements of yoga, and limit their physical involvement to only the basic postures.
What are the different types of yoga?
Yoga has evolved over the years, and different teachers and brands have developed their own versions. Hatha, for example, relies on physical exercises and postures that promote mindfulness and meditation. There are several types of Hatha yoga, including Ashtanga, which includes six main posture sequences. Each series of poses is linked by a breath, and is called a Vinyasa.
Other versions of yoga include Bikram (yoga in a steam room), Iyengar (yoga with straps, harnesses and boards for easier poses) and Jivamukti (a very physical form of yoga that pushes the body to its physical limits).
How has yoga changed over the years?
Like most forms of exercise and mindfulness activity, yoga has evolved with the times. Zoe has seen several yoga fads come and go over the years, but she’s keen to point out that the basic principles are always the same.
What has changed, for the better, is the accessibility of yoga. There are now classes tailored to children, the elderly, people with disabilities and the obese. And thanks to the Internet, the popularity of yoga is growing in all the regions of the UK, and not just in London.
Spreading the word about the joys of yoga
It’s not an exaggeration to describe Zoe’s discovery of yoga as an epiphany. She was so excited about just how much yoga had changed her life, she wanted to tell the World.
She said: “Almost immediately, I found myself wanting to train in the art of yoga. I wanted to share it with anyone who would listen. I need to make people understand how wonderful yoga can be… how it can change lives.”
Zoe’s enthusiasm for yoga is utterly infectious, but this ancient art of balance and mindfulness needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated.
“Yoga just slows everything down, and allows me to open my mind to live in the moment. I’m able to appreciate things more now. My husband noticed I was far calmer and less anxious. The change in me was amazing.”
A change of direction
For Zoe, finding yoga wasn’t about exercise or a healthy lifestyle (although both are still important to her), it was about finding herself. She eventually quit her business management role, and started a PR company with her husband. Crucially, however, Zoe trained to become a yoga instructor.
She said: “I quickly learned that absolutely anyone can get something from the basic principles involved. Yes, there are some exercises to do, but yoga is more about balancing the mind and breathing. Anyone can learn to calm their mind — they don’t need to be extra fit or supple.
“I love helping people to discover yoga in the way I did. The principle behind it is to achieve a balanced and clear state of mind. That’s the basis for everything… the physical stuff helps to focus the mind and achieve balance.
Zoe offers advice for anyone getting started with yoga
“Never judge yourself or others. Don’t worry if you don’t think you’re as ‘good’ as everyone else. Trust me, everyone else is concentrating on themselves, not looking at you!”
Try to practice for at least five minutes a day, an hour, a week or whatever you can manage. The more time you can dedicate, the more you’ll get out of your yoga. Just sitting on your mat for 10 minutes, or even 10 minutes in child’s pose, can help you to progress. Attempt whatever your body needs on a given day.
Dedicate a space in your home to yoga
A room would be perfect, but we don’t all have the space or the luxury at home. A mat at the bottom of your bed is perfect. Practising yourself outside of classes or led sessions is one of the best ways to tune into your body and learn about yourself. Keep your mat within reach of your space, and roll it out whenever you have the opportunity.
Don’t expect miracles overnight
People come to yoga for many different reasons – whether it be physical, mental, emotional or another reason. For some people, their first yoga class will be life-changing. For others, it takes time and practice. Neither are right or wrong. If it doesn’t click the first time, don’t give up! Yoga is an ever-evolving journey of self exploration with no definitive end. It just may take a little time to find your path.
Enjoy yourself! Yoga shouldn’t be all about struggle. Sure, you may struggle with some physical postures or calming your mind, but if you smile and enjoy yourself it will make the journey so much more enjoyable.
What does the future hold for Zoe… and yoga?
Zoe is very excited about what the future holds — both for her and yoga in general. Having discovered the benefits of yoga, Zoe’s main objective is to continue her journey of discovery. She is determined to learn more, and continue her own education.
“I love helping people to discover their own path. I can’t ever imagine not being a yoga instructor. I’m always asking questions of teachers and researching. I’m still at the beginning of my journey, so I wouldn’t yet call myself a yoga teacher… but maybe one day.”
Zoe thinks of yoga very much in terms of a set of principles. There are basic constructs that people can adopt, but not all of them are suited to everyone.
Zoe said: “Yoga is yoga. It means different things to different people, but the basis is rooted in balance. Yes, you get various different fads and versions, but they tend to be cyclical. In the end, it always comes down to the same basic principles.
“Yoga is best when it’s stripped down to the basics. It has taken a while, but it is finally becoming very popular outside London, in places like my hometown of Birmingham. I think this is happening because people are finally realising that there’s an authenticity about yoga that is stripped back.
“I have enjoyed introducing yoga to my children, and that’s something I hope to do more of in the future. The basic principles of yoga helped my daughter to remain calmer during exams recently. I just love seeing people respond to the balance and mindfulness it brings.”
Zoe Woodward’s love of yoga is truly infectious. Not only is she knowledgeable about the practice, she has an incredible passion for it. There’s no doubt that Zoe will go on helping people to improve their quality of life for many years to come.
Role: Yoga Instructor, Wife, Mother and business owner (me and my husband co own and run our own creative branding and PR agency), blogger and self proclaimed traveler!
Qualifications: 200hr Yoga Alliance Accredited Yoga Instructor
Areas of Expertise: Dynamic Vinyasa, Yin and Hatha Yoga
Mission: To spread the word about Yoga to everyone, cheesy really! I want everyone to know that they can practise Yoga regardless of age, fitness level or gender