Keep calm and carry on. That’s my New Year’s resolution for 2023, which I mean to manifest in various arenas of my personal, professional and private life.
And what better way to enjoy a hit of calming dopamine than by exercising? And what better exercise to get stuck into than yoga?
The age-old Indian practice is, arguably, the most effective modern-day workout out there. The physical benefits are many.
Even a basic child’s pose can be dialled up such that it becomes a super-effective stretch. I particularly enjoy the variation that requires me to turn to each side, in child’s pose itself, and then extend the opposite arm along the floor as much as I’m able.
My back feels instantly toned. Follow this up with a simple cat-cow stretch and that’s an easy but effective warm-up I can get on board with before every session, no matter the type of exercise that’s to follow.
Postures aside, yoga encourages and inculcates the right way to breathe. It was only when I first took up the practice in my early 20s, for example, that I started expanding my stomach on inhaling and contracting it with each exhale. I had been breathing “wrong” for two-odd decades!
And the side effects of effective breathwork? Well, only that it boosts oxygen intake to the bloodstream and removes carbon dioxide as a by-product — a process that sustains life itself.
Better lung capacity also strengthens the chest muscles, so you look and feel more fit, and improves circulation that, in turn, can make you more calm, energetic and disease-resistant.
The discipline’s third tenet is perhaps most sought after in our pandemic-hit, stress-riddled lives: mental strength.
Be it an asana that requires balance, a pranayama that involves releasing your breath (and pent-up stress) in a whoosh, or the ever-popular, calmness-inducing savasana that tail-ends every session, yoga is proven to firm up mental faculties.
For me, chanting "Om" at the end of each class is the perfect antidote to dislodge any negative thoughts accumulated over the course of the day. That, and Candy Crush (yes, still).
I prefer to chant the single-syllable mantra six times — the first three times elongating the “Au” sound and the last three focusing on the “Mmm”. The positive vibrations of that one simple invocation stay with me long after they are gone.
The kind of yoga I prefer to practise has also evolved as I’ve grown older. In my 20s Bharat Thakur’s “artistic power yoga” was the right fit — think 108 sun salutations in 50 minutes and head stands galore.
The levels of flexibility I reached in those five years endure to this day, although I need to rely on a solid wall and cushioned mat (or a very trustworthy partner) to get into a head stand at present.
Soon after I gave birth, I signed up for private lessons with a pranayama pro from the Shivajyothi Holistic Lifestyle Coaching Centre in Dubai.
These got my breathwork and posture back in order in less than three months, prepping me for the active but not frantic sessions I favour now, as I hurtle towards the big 4-0.
At Yoga Ashram, which is a short walk from my home in JLT, instructors conduct sessions adapted to various abilities and interests (they even do one each for children and pregnant women).
On days I am feeling particularly energetic, the yoga circuit class for weight loss is a good fit. A loop of Shakti hops can, after all, be considered a bona fide cardio exercise.
On other days, I explore classes such as yoga-Pilates (many Sufi rolls equal fewer tummy rolls), dynamic flow (down-dog, plank, push-up, repeat) and even sound healing and meditation.
The end game remains the same: to get toned if not thin; to push myself as much as I am able depending on time, day and mood; and to feel fab for hours after — or, in other words, to keep calm and carry on.