March 26th 2014
Yoga is a well-known antidote to fast-paced city life, yet despite its numerous benefits, many are reluctant to start due to injury, the fear of being the least bendy person in the class, or simply the time constraints of a busy lifestyle. Private yoga classes are therefore becoming more and more popular in Hong Kong, and what better person to give them a test run than a hunched over, desk-chained workaholic who can’t touch her toes – our editor Crystal Wilde.
Okay, so I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true that I can’t touch my toes. It’s not through a lack of fitness I hasten to add – I play netball and go to the gym – but as I never do anything other than cardio, I’m embarrassingly inflexible. I practice meditation whenever I get the chance as I’m a tad susceptible to stress, so I’ve often thought that yoga could be a good way to combine a workout for both my mind and body. So why have I never tried it? Because I have too much pride to let anyone see fail to perfectly execute the ‘downward-facing dog’.
When I heard about the private classes offered by Inspire Yoga therefore, I jumped at the chance to bomb in the privacy of my own home. Established in Hong Kong five years ago, this team of trained professionals offers 11 different programmes between them, and will come to your office, apartment or even a corridor to give you step-by-step instruction, personal adjustments and undivided attention.
Inspire Yoga founder Neelam Harjani, who has been practicing yoga since she was a girl, said she found the discipline particularly grounding while working in Hong Kong’s high stakes corporate world. “I always found no matter how stressed or anxious I got, I could roll out my yoga mat and find some space for myself,” she said.
When her yoga teacher told her she had nothing left to learn, Neelam was finally motivated to quit her job at UBS and train as an instructor herself. It was while leading one of her first group classes that she grasped the need for personalised programmes.
“There was one lady who had just given birth, a runner wanting to loosen up, and a Buddhist monk who was keen to learn more about the meditation side of yoga,” Neelam explained. “I realised that no one class would suit them all, so I decided to customise a programme for each.”
Of the many classes on offer at Inspire Yoga, including Pre and Post-Natal, Breathing & Meditation, Back Care, and Fitness, I was of course assigned to the Beginners Programme, which offers a step-by-step introduction to the basic principles of yoga. My teacher was a cheery New Yorker who has experienced working with both seniors and brand new beginners, so perfect for a wobbly, weakling newbie like myself!
She started me off gently enough with some breathing awareness and warm ups working through all the joints of the body. As I writhed and wriggled around on the tiny bit of tangible floor space in my kitchen, the instructor kept things fun and informal and made me feel totally at home – which I guess I literally was. Along with being very precise about the muscles I should and shouldn’t be using, she was also intuitive, and instantly picked out my nagging weak ankle from the way I performed the poses.
Once we had the basics covered, my instructor upped the ante, having me transition from one pose to another to test my stamina and introducing isometric stretching to engage and lengthen the muscles. I’m not ashamed to tell you that some of this hurt like hell (in that ‘I’m doing myself some good’ way), and I’ve never sweated so much while practically standing still.
Just as I reached my limit when trying to straighten the hind legs of my dodgy downward-facing dog however, the session came to an end with a warm down and chill out guided relaxation. While I could hardly say I excelled myself in this class, the hands-on guidance I received made me feel much more comfortable about current the limitations of my body, and confident that I can in fact overcome them.
As my instructor put it, “Saying you can’t do yoga because you’re not flexible is like saying you can’t eat because you’re too hungry.”