Fitness and sport company XDubai welcomed 13,000 people to the second XYoga at Kite Beach last month. The two-day festival included sessions such as Chocolate Yoga, Mom and Me, Let's Invert and Vinyasa Flow, which were conducted by 35 yogis, some of whom spoke to us about how best to incorporate the activity in your life, no matter your age.
Baby steps (Ages 1 to 8)
Born and raised in Argentina to a Lebanese family and now based in Dubai, Natalia Hassanie is the founder of the Posetivity programme for children, which integrates yoga, mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Her top tips are aimed at adults who want to encourage young ones to get involved with yoga.
She says: “‘Fun’ and ‘engaging’ are two key words when it comes to practising yoga with children. Use props, music and your creativity to turn challenges into adventures. When dealing with a younger age group, confine them to one room with the least furniture or gadgets, so they don’t get distracted. Is someone disrupting your session? Maybe he or she can become your assistant for the day.
"Help children become aware of their bodies. For example, try the 'balloon' breathing technique. Place one hand on the belly and the other on the chest, and guide them to feel their stomachs growing. When you inhale, your balloon grows bigger and your tummy goes bigger. Once you exhale, your tummy and balloon grow smaller. Another enjoyable technique is using tissue paper, held in front of the mouth. The deeper you breathe, the farther the tissue will move. Encourage kids to have yogi bodies – that is, to keep their spine as straight as possible. Also, name the poses each time, so the young ones can remember them.
“Above all, be relaxed yourself: children will sense your energy and engage eventually.”
Catch them young (Ages 9 to 18)
Raised in Madrid and educated in London before she moved to Dubai, Carla Julian is the founder of Move On Yoga.
“Establishing a regular yoga practice from a young age enables students to enhance, concentrate, focus and have an improved mind-body relationship,” she says. “An improved resilience leads to higher achievements, so yoga is also great for academic performance. Think of the brain as having two emotions: after a session, the logical brain has had a workout – it’s literally buzzing with activity – while the emotional brain is calm and focused.
“For teenagers, an amazing yoga experience can be had in a lovely open space – the beach, park or a terrace. Allow for a few minutes of savasana (the relaxation pose) at the end of the class to help them rewire. Play to their strengths. This is a time when we are most flexible, strong and balanced. Introduce them to the fun and beauty of inversions and backbends.
“Yoga is a practice for life, a long-term journey. The sooner someone starts, the greater the understanding, appreciation and, of course, the benefits.”
No room for stress (People in their 20s)
A former teacher of Spanish, Candace Cabrera Moore is the yogi, blogger and entrepreneur who founded healthy living companies YogaByCandace and Mantra Box, and wrote a memoir-turned-podcast, Namaslay. Based on her observations of often stressed-out young people, she suggests: "Each time you go to a yoga class or try it at home, tell yourself these five things: 'I am here to relax. I have an open mind. I will work within a pain-free range. I will be patient with myself, and I am where I need to be at this moment.'
“Great for improving your mood are postures that open up through the heart, such as the dancer’s pose, camel pose and crescent lunge (pictured). De-stress by putting your legs up on the wall or try the supported bridge and supported
"The three-part breath is a great technique at this stage. Essentially, when we are anxious, we breathe rapidly and shallowly. This causes more anxiety because it's a precursor to hyperventilating. Instead, sit tall and bring your hands to your belly. As you breathe in, first fill up your belly area with air. Then, as you continue to inhale, bring your hands to the sides of your ribs. You will notice that your ribs expand out to the sides. This means you are getting a full deep breath. Then, when you think you cannot breathe in any more, take one last sip of breath as you bring your hands to your chest. You will notice your chest rises ever so slightly. Now you have fully inhaled. When you are ready to exhale, do the same thing, but slowly and in reverse. Exhale first from the chest, noticing that the chest lowers slightly. Then bring your hands to your ribs and continue exhaling as you notice your ribs go in towards your centre. Finally, bring your hands to your belly as you exhale all the air out of your lungs, noticing that your belly button draws in."
Part of a whole (People in their 30s)
Jordanian Sara Fakhouri is a community yoga instructor and certified feng shui practitioner. She believes that while group yoga is a great way to make the activity more inclusive, it's also a time when you can focus on detachment and self-sufficiency.
She says: “One of my favourite verses is atha yoga anusasanam, which means ‘now begins yoga’. I think everyone should start at some point and this – your 30s – is the right time to do it. Don’t look around, don’t compete, travel inward, and close your eyes whenever you can to see where the journey takes you. What really helped me is to go online. There are plenty of yoga portals and you get to learn from so many amazing teachers around the world.
“The best and most simple breathing technique is to make sure that your exhale is as long as your inhale – count slowly to three each time. It’s a way of releasing the toxins. Listen to your breathing and you will be able to hear your body.
“My favourite posture would be sitting in a comfortable seat with your spine elongated. As simple as it looks, it’s one of the hardest poses to hold, but it brings total awareness to your body, it welcomes energy, calms you and grounds you, even if you are just sitting still.”
Rely on your instincts (People in their 40s and 50s)
Australia’s Sjha’ra Taylor (pictured) is known as the “chocolate yogi”, and she combines Kundalini yoga techniques with a traditional Guatemalan cacao ceremony, which entails praying to the Cacao spirit, a Mayan deity, and consuming superfood in hot chocolate form.
She says: "In my experience, this is often the time when people really start to acknowledge the ageing process; they start to see it and feel it in their bodies, and are drawn to yoga to help delay the process. My advice for those who are just starting to practise is to take it easy at first and be mindful of any existing injuries. Find out what's going to work for you and what's not. Listen and follow your intuition, so you can discern when to stay with a pose and when to ease off. You will be amazed at how quickly you can improve with even just a short daily practice.
“At this point you should practise poses that prevent stiffness, and keep the body supple. In Kundalini yoga, we say that a flexible spine gives you a flexible mind and keeps you looking younger. So make sure you include some form of back- and forward-bend. I also find any kind of pranayama breathing exercise can be beneficial for many of us who experience the midlife crisis, or crossroads as I prefer to say. The breathing techniques help to de-stress and unwind people, and I also recommend investing at least 10 minutes daily to stretching the body to maintain your flexibility. And finally, if you’re in your 40s or 50s and you’ve never meditated before, there’s no better time to start.”
Breath and balance (People in their 60s)
British-Iranian yoga and Ayurvedic therapist Yogi Cameron is the author of The Guru in You, The One Plan and the upcoming The Yogi Code, as well host of the TV show A Model Guru.
He says: “The best postures at this time are the ones that keep you in balance and keep your vitality levels up. Don’t ever compete with anyone, not even yourself – it saps energy. Above all, make sure to breathe continually and deeply, without ever holding your breath. The best practice is the full yoga-breath technique, because once you perfect this, postures will become easier and more accurate.”
The full yoga-breath is a three-part technique, which involves abdominal, chest and the more shallow collarbone breathing, each variation united into a flowing wave so that you’re breathing at full lung capacity, naturally and without any stress.
Start by lying on your back on a hard but comfortable surface, allow your legs to fall loosely away from each other and keep your arms by your side with the palms facing up. As you inhale, slowly move your arms upwards along the floor until they rest beside your head. Coordinate the breath with the movement of the arms, beginning with an inhalation from the abdomen, then your chest and finally into the area of the clavicle. If need be, place your hands on the three areas to feel the gentle rise as your draw breath, lifting up consciously until it comes to you naturally.
Postures that improve your balance include the mountain pose, the downward dog using a chair to support your upper body, the crescent lunge done against a wall and the tree pose, maybe done with a partner. Also, as we age, our vision tends to weaken, affecting our balance, so don’t close your eyes unless you’re completely comfortable in a posture and practise eye yoga – move the eyes in all directions and use the heat of your hands to warm the muscles at the beginning and end of each session.
Keep on moving (People over 70)
Having studied under the 99-year-old Tao Porchon-Lynch (pictured), yoga coach and motivational speaker Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy has served on the Board of Yoga Alliance, taught yoga to global leaders on the Great Wall of China and presented for organisations such as the National Institutes of Health and World Economic Forum. She is producing a documentary on Porchon-Lynch's life.
She says: “Tao and I met [American writer] Bernando LaPallo when he was 114, and he walked every morning. So a big part of it is stay active and don’t stop moving. Engaging the breath is the foundation because it moves your lymphatic system and keeps your oxygen levels up. So take the time to learn the breathing techniques and practise them every day.
“Tao says that you age most in your hands and feet, so she does leg lifts every day and massages her legs to keep the circulation flowing.
“You may not be able do a shoulder stand, but you can put your legs up against a wall, because you also want to reverse the circulation flow and strengthen the heart. Energy swings, where you simply swing from side to side, is a technique practised around the world by seniors. And finally, do some simple sun breaths or, if you’re up for it, sun salutations.”